In a decided departure for baseball-themed novels, a middle schooler figures out that the game’s values are not always reliable guidelines for real life.
Casey is delighted when his dad, who runs a New Jersey camp for aspiring umpires, puts him in charge of You Suck, Ump! Day—a training exercise in which everyone in town is invited to fill the stands and harangue the students while they try to call a game. On the other hand, his mom is definitely benched in his mind for getting a divorce, and he’s disgusted to discover that sixth-graders at his new school aren’t permitted to write for the paper. But then a truly publication-worthy scoop drops into his lap: It seems that one of the trainees is a former major leaguer who quit under a cloud of drug-use suspicion. Vernick laces her tale with humor, plus credible insights into the truly difficult art and techniques of umpiring, as she leads her aspiring journalist to make some good choices in the wake of a realization that people (parents included) should have more than one chance to get their calls right. (As major league umpires’ calls will be challengeable in 2014, the metaphor isn’t as strong as it might be...but that’s not the author’s fault, and young readers will still see her point.)
Not a heavy hitter but worthy of a spot in the starting lineup. (Fiction. 10-12)