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Summerland: A Novel Paperback – February 16, 2004
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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A BookSense 76 pick, and best-seller from coast to coast-Summerland is part fantasy, part adventure, part baseball, but most of all it's the story of a young boy, Ethan Feld-a lousy, but lovable little-leaguer who finds himself playing in the most important baseball game ever. Not only the game, but the fate of the world rests on his shoulders.
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First, the highlights. Chabon's marvelous fantasy world is a multiverse: four different universes (the "human" world, Summerland, Winterland, and an inaccessible branch), connected by several hidden pathways that can be crossed with the help of "Shadowtails"--creatures who can instantly "scamper" within a world or can "leap" between universes. The inhabitants of these worlds include Sasquatches (don't call them "Bigfoot"!), wererats, goblins, giants, ferishers, pixies, and innumerable other species, all of whom share a passion for playing baseball, especially to settle their many otherworldly bets, arguments, and conflicts. The four worlds are intertwined branches of the Lodgepole (alias "The Tree"), which the evil Coyote and his followers (the "Rade") plan to poison and thus end the world as we know it (or thought we knew it, until a werefox shows up in a corner of Washington State). The hero, Ethan, and his friends from Clam Island are chosen (naturally) to save the universe.
The author does an admirable job of depicting both his mystical creation and Ethan's adventures, and he does so with a good deal of wit and humor. Ultimately, however, the novel's main characters are drawn with indistinct strokes, and the supporting cast is barely drawn at all. The book's premise demands a team of nine (in order to play ball, of course), plus a variety of fiends and lingering oddballs, but Chabon doesn't really flesh out the almost twenty characters who have major screen time. The protagonists are one-note characters: Ethan (insecure and unathletic), Jennifer T (tomboyish), Thor (an outsider, but for a reason), and Mr. Feld (bumbling). The rest of the crew, unfortunately, is somewhat indistinguishable. Even after 500 pages, I couldn't tell you who was Cutbelly, who was Cinquefoil, and who was Pettipaw, and whether they were werefoxes, wererats, werewolves, or what have you. And, desperately in need of a ninth player 360 pages into the story, our heroes abduct an aging major-league Anaheim Angel, who then pretty much serves as a needless benchwarmer for the remainder of the plot.
Kids might be enthralled enough by the fantasy elements to enjoy "Summerland," but, as an adult who reads both fantasies and children's literature, I found the lack of characterization a serious disappointment. All the same, I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy the likes of Philip Pullman, C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, and Tolkien, and who are counting the hours until the sixth Harry Potter book comes out.
Get it for your kids...read it for the kid in you!
(no, not a plot synopsis, you have to read it for yourself; you can find a cliff version I'm sure, but this is too delicious to spoil by that)