Cottonwood (Danny Ain't, 1992, etc.) returns to the deceptively quiet town of San Puerco, California, for this filling tale of an overweight seventh grader, young love, family, baseball, and rock-'n'-roll. Babcock meets Kirsten by the lake where he's communing with dragonflies and feeding the ducks out of his briefcase and she's turning handsprings. He writes songs for his garage band; she writes poetry. He's black and hefty; she's white and thin. Meanwhile, Babcock's Uncle Earl roars in for an extended stay, taking over the band's garage, falling head over heels for Rosemary Rule, Babcock's take-no-prisoners teacher, and organizing a hopeless Little League team. Clear-eyed, self-possessed, and big-hearted, Babcock makes an appealing narrator, wise for his years but not unbelievably so, and an equal match for the obstacles before him. Cottonwood takes readers on an eventful ride, from high hilarity when Babcock's large caged menagerie--including Martin Luther the kingsnake, a barking giant salamander named Malcolm, the mice Frederick and Douglass--escapes, to the double shock of learning that Earl has wagered a loan on the wrong Little League team, and finding him shortly thereafter dead of a heart attack. Whether their choices are good or bad, the characters get the benefit of the doubt and the gift of being able to grow and change; it's not all empty calories.