Elementary-school teacher and former sports reporter Petrucci weaves a poignant tale of a young boy with a cleft palate, who finds respite from the harsh realities of small-town life by playing baseball.
Twelve-year-old Nicky Palmieri is the leader of the Kelsey Avenue Crew, a neighborhood sandlot baseball team. Since he was born with a cleft palate and underbite which caused hearing and speech difficulties, however, he endures ridicule from the other students at Stiles Elementary School. Nicky undergoes several operations, all unsuccessful, and the school bullies refer to him as the â€œLip” or â€œElephant Man.” He battles his tormentors in the lunch line and is punished by a seemingly heartless principal for telling the truth about the brawl. Upon arriving home, Nicky is reprimanded once again, by his parents, for fighting in school. He determines that telling the truth consistently gets him into trouble, and thus invents lies to protect himself. Nicky finds solace in an afterschool job at the local deli. His boss Big John is the town’s legendary tough guy–a former athletic star and war veteran, he’s the keeper of neighborhood peace. Big John and his protÃ©gÃ© Jerry Gambardella Jr. also coach the Kelsey Avenue Crew, and when Jerry unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, Nicky and his friends are crushed. The protagonist secretly places his prized baseball glove in the coffin with Jerry, then must contrive a string of lies when asked for its whereabouts. Big John unearths Nicky’s glove and tries to teach him that lying doesn’t pay. In spite of tragic events, Nicky begins to discover the value of good friends and a loving family, and finds confidence in his athletic abilities. Short, upbeat chapters maintain a steady pace, and the theme of the novel–truth and learning–is clearly, though often didactically, presented. The characters in Heart of the Hide are fleshed out and believable, as is the dialogue, which moves at a steady pace.
A lengthy yet endearing treat for young sports fans.