A debut novel with the charm of a Ring Lardner tale-the story of a backwoods boy who has a briefly notorious career as a major-leaguer before becoming a prisoner of war in Japan. Andrew Jackson ``Gooseball'' Fielder grows up in Smackover, Arkansas, with brothers Jugs and Jude. He ``lived and breathed sports from can-see to can't-see.'' Along with instances of coming-of-age in the oil patch, we see Jackson developing his ``gooseball'' in a local pipeyard with his brother Jugs-who, however, joins the Navy and, before being shipped out, marries Dixie, a woman all three brothers are sweet on. After Paw takes sick and wastes away, Jackson is discovered by the St. Louis Browns. Then, following a stint in the minors, he's brought up, in 1941, to pitch against the Yankees in a pennant-deciding game. An inveterate worrier who ``fears being the goat,'' Jackson balks home the winning run, falls apart, and joins the Army Air Corps. Later, Jugs is killed, whereupon Jude makes his move on Dixie, and Jackson-in gunnery school and helpless to interfere- eventually gets sent on a mission over downtown Tokyo. Captured, he lives through a hideous physical ordeal in a pipe before a Japanese admiral, whose son wants to play ball, rescues him for a life of relative ease until the war ends. After the war, Jackson plays ball again, but Dixie is already married, and his wartime involvement with the Admiral-as well as other incidents while he was a prisoner-cause the Army to accuse him of treason. He beats the charge, but the big leagues blacklist him; he also has a final victorious showdown with Jude, who turns out to be an abusive animal. The voice is credible, and the humor just hard-edged enough to give the story a little spin. Ball fans will enjoy it, as will devotees of southern backwoods fiction.

Pub Date: April 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-87483-172-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: August House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1991

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In 1880s New York, a young lad with inadequate means but an abundance of character uses his head, heart, and fists to battle his way out of the tenements. Johnny Woods works 12 hours a day at a sweatshop ironing men’s shirts. Since his father deserted his mother and five younger brothers and sisters, this 15-year-old youngster has valiantly toiled to help put bread on the table. Desperate for some extra cash, he signs up to box in a bar, only to get arrested—fighting was then illegal—and thrown into prison. In an unexpected twist, it’s the best thing that ever happened to him. There he meets Michael O’Shaunnessey, “Professor of the Science of Boxing,” and a “born teacher.” Returning home fit and trained, Johnny finds a paucity of job opportunities for politically unconnected and uneducated youths like himself, except in the boxing ring. There he soon piles up an impressive string of victories. Hard-working and kind, Johnny returns to school, spending his meager spare time with his five siblings, giving them by turn the treat of his undivided attention. Karr’s first-person narrative is fast-paced and instantly engrossing, and she captures her character’s dreams and dilemmas as well as the rhythm and excitement of the boxing matches, and the scenes, scents, and squalor of tenement life. Although Johnny is a little too good to be true, readers should be rooting for the kid with the killer punch and the soul of a Boy Scout both in and out of the ring. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2000

ISBN: 0-374-30921-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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Nicely executed fiction with a neatly-resolved ending that will leave readers smiling.


A short, empathetic novel for middle-schoolers that addresses learning disabilities and bullying.

Retired teacher Spurr’s prior experience with learning-disabled children shines as she compassionately illustrates the world of Jamie Parker and the way dyslexia affects his everyday life. Jamie’s learned much from his fisherman father (who isn’t a great reader but has a wealth of practical knowledge about nature), but still doesn’t understand why his dad is so adamant that Jamie focus on schoolwork. School is difficult for Jamie–dyslexia not only makes coursework a challenge, but he is subjected to the bullying of Ray Quinn. He would far rather spend the day on his dad’s boat than in the classroom. Jamie’s first year of middle school promises to be the same as all the others–special reading classes, abuse from Ray and stress headaches–with the exception of finding a friend in newcomer Oscar. Over the course of several months, Jamie grows as he experiences success on the soccer field, collaborates on an interesting research project with Oscar and realizes the unfortunate circumstances that motivate Ray’s behavior. Oscar and Jamie have complementary skills in school and learn a great deal about Native Americans for an important social studies project, as well as learn a difficult lesson about bullying when their project disappears, leaving them with the threat of failing their class. When Jamie’s dog Mac has an accident, Ray plays a pivotal role, and because of this new bond, the relationship among the three boys is transformed. The book contains age-appropriate vocabulary and natural dialogue, with likable characters that help flesh out the absorbing plot. Readers learn about human behavior as the book opens topics–including disabilities, families and the local environment–for further discussion.

Nicely executed fiction with a neatly-resolved ending that will leave readers smiling.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-595-43915-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2010

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