A young baseball star wrestles with disappointment in Schell’s debut YA novel.
In 1954, Angus Woodley “Woody” Twigg is a baseball wunderkind—a gifted high school shortstop who’s slated to soon play for the St. Louis Cardinals. But Woody’s dreams are abruptly destroyed when an accident on his uncle’s farm leaves him with only a thumb and a finger on his left hand. Unable to reconcile his self-image as a “hero” with his new reality, Woody sinks into a deep depression. His life is changed again, however, when a vacuum cleaner salesman stops at his house. The kind, quiet, and profoundly wise Joshua “Pop” Wenger convinces the young man to accept a door-to-door job with his employer, Supreme Clean, and shares his “commandments”—his tips for successfully closing deals that also happen to be good rules for living (such as “rule #3,” “Always be able to sleep in peace”). After a spirited but ultimately doomed attempt to recover his baseball glory, Woody gets caught up in Supreme Clean’s nationwide sales competition. But the re-emergence of his competitive streak proves that he’s still wrestling with what it means to be a “winner.” As the years pass, he endures heartbreak but also uses his hard-earned wisdom to guide others. The various salesmen of Supreme Clean, as written by Schell, are a joy to discover—believable, eccentric, likable, and each different from the last, such as a Vietnam veteran who may be struggling with severe PTSD and a young playwright whose talkative arrogance gradually gives way to gumption and vulnerability. The author also religiously records his characters’ Appalachian speech—“ain’t” is written as “hain’t,” and “water” as “warter”—and his descriptions of his protagonist are melodious, grandiose, and memorable, such as when Woody remembers his greatest moment at bat: “The pitcher threw a missile intended to conquer and destroy what I love and all I am as a human bean, and with a thirty-five inch piece of lumber I said you cain’t destroy the heart of who I am.”
A joyfully written, American-as-apple-pie tale about what a successful life looks like.