Carter Jones’ family inherits the services of a “gentleman’s gentleman” with a passion for cricket just when they most need him.
Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick arrives in a purple Bentley at their New York state home during a downpour on the morning of Carter’s first day of sixth grade. The Butler, as Carter thinks of him, helps with Mary Poppins–like efficiency and perceptiveness to organize and transform the chaos of a household with little money, four children, a father deployed overseas, and a gaping hole. Six-year-old Currier died three years ago, and Carter carries his brother’s green shooter marble like a talisman. Carter’s memories of a more recent wilderness trip with his father are filled with deep sadness and foreboding. Meanwhile, Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick (amusingly snobby about pizza, television, and American slang) encourages Carter to step up, to play a bigger role in his sisters’ lives—and to learn to play cricket. Schmidt convincingly conveys the zany elegance and appeal of the game without excessive explanation. Though the newly formed middle school cricket team includes boys surnamed Yang and Singh, none of the characters are described by race, and the primary cast is assumed white. Schmidt gracefully weaves together the humor of school, siblings, and a dachshund with a delicate digestive system with deeper themes of family connection, disappointment, anger, and grief.
The result is wonderfully impressive and layered. (Fiction. 10-13)