Cassie Bennett has just finished eighth grade and is starting her final middle school all-star softball season. What she doesn’t realize is that it will be the most difficult yet best one yet.
This year there’s a new girl on their team who stands out, and it’s not just because she is an amazing player. Cassie’s dad, the team’s coach, tells her that Sarah Milligan is on the autism spectrum. When Cassie tries to push her teammates to accept Sarah immediately, the team fractures, leaving Cassie and Sarah on the outside. In the end Cassie finally learns what she needs to learn: She can’t fix people, either Sarah or her teammates. There is also a subplot of short-lived drama on the boys’ baseball team due to a new coach, which becomes comic relief for both Cassie and readers. In the fourth installment in his Home Team series (Point Guard, 2017, etc.), Lupica consciously focuses on neurodiversity. Readers learn the difference between sympathy and empathy as well as the truth that no matter how many common traits they say people with autism share, everybody’s different, and Sarah is most like herself. Among the resources Cassie consults is the website Autism Speaks; that there seems to be little awareness that it’s not universally trusted by autism activists may raise eyebrows. On the sports side, the play-by-play makes little accommodation for readers who don’t know the game, but those who are reading for the theme rather than the softball action should find that they can follow well enough.
A base hit for readers interested in sports as well as neurodiversity. (Fiction. 8-12)