In the opener of a four-book series about kids in the baseball-loving town of Walton, 12-year-old Jack Callahan struggles to square his personal sorrows with his deep love of the game.
Gifted baseball player Jack and buddy Gus, whose family roots in the Dominican Republic partly inform his aspiration to the Little League championships in Williamsport, have played since T-ball. Jack’s sudden announcement on tryout day that he won’t be playing this season angers Gus and bewilders his own parents. But the town’s softball superstar, classmate Cassie, steps up to offer simple, straightforward friendship to Jack. She persuades Jack to keep connected with the game by helping her dad coach her team. A new friendship with another classmate, Teddy, allows Jack to reveal that he blames himself for his risk-taking older brother’s accidental death the summer before. Adults are admirable: Coaches emphasize sportsmanship; parents set aside their own troubles to support their children. The baseball narrative is terrific—Lupica recaps these fictional games with brisk, exciting clarity. The friendship story is solid, kind and reassuring, and even if most of the young characters demonstrate unlikely maturity rather than depth, readers will only notice the qualities that are best in them.
A lovely nod to Derek Jeter rounds out a winner of a sports novel. (Fiction. 9-13)