This young-adult novel by Cobb (Greta’s Magical Mistake, 2011) introduces Stephen, whose skill in baseball helps him cope with bullies and a learning disability.
In the small town of Lamington, N.J., nothing much happens. There are three different churches and no stoplights, and kids hang out at an ice cream place called the Dipper. Only Little League baseball enlivens the town. Stephen Miller, a 6-foot-2-inch seventh-grader who weighs 200 pounds, plays for the Lamington Giants. And he’s incredible. His brother Jack and best friend Charlie say he’ll play for the Yankees someday—if only he can learn to concentrate on anything else. In every class, Stephen compulsively relives ballgames in his head, frustrating his parents and teachers. Fellow students tease and bully him mercilessly—despite his large size—with embarrassing pranks (like sending pussy willow seeds to his home). Then, Megan Milton arrives in town. Stephen’s wealthy, warmhearted new classmate is from Connecticut and has an adorably crooked smile. She also had a severe bullying problem that prompted her move to Lamington. While she and Stephen grow closer, his own pack of tormentors plans its most humiliating stunt yet. Author Cobb brings home the supposed simplicity of small-town life with a patient eye: “During the day shopping gets done, dishes get washed, and houses get cleaned....” Stephen is a charming, funny narrator, and once he starts describing baseball games, this tale’s versatility begins to shine. Here’s his take on a particularly slow fastball: “I could have run to the snack shack, downed a couple of hotdogs, and still been back in time to catch [it].” Cobb’s long stretches of naturally engaging dialogue also help deliver characters and twists that positively outstrip stories merely about athletic glory. “I’m a nice guy,” says Stephen, “and that is who I want to be.” Rather than sounding trite, this statement is a rallying cry for those who must deal with bullies and don’t want to sink to their level.
Always sincere, occasionally shocking, this tale is required reading for kids and parents.