A generally solid novel about baseball and growing up in a time of change.

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MICKEY MANTLE’S LAST HOME RUN

Falco’s (Grandpa Gordy’s Greatest World Series Games, 2002) coming-of-age historical novel blends baseball and the social upheaval of the 1960s.

New Jersey teenager T.J. plays shortstop on the high school baseball team and is an avid fan of the New York Yankees, particularly Mickey Mantle. However, as the story begins in early 1968, T.J. is reluctant to admit that his hero’s career is coming to an end. T.J., who’s white, hears of the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy, and his closest friendship with classmate and fellow ballplayer Jonathan, who’s black, is tested as racial tensions escalate in the community. The boys fight for their spots on the field, test their limits on parent-free trips to games in New York, and learn the limits of sociocultural expectations. The metaphorical role of baseball is evident from the opening pages (“Jonathan said that 1968 was a year when everybody did a lot of respect paying, so he might as well do it for Mick’s playing career”), and Falco writes excellent, detailed scenes of the characters observing and playing the game, which will appeal to fans of good sportswriting. He also does a good job of depicting the boys’ day-to-day relationship (“Jonathan was the king of goofing off, and Frankie was the prince of shooting the breeze”). The book is a bit uneven in its treatment of races, though; one section, for instance, intriguingly describes how Jonathan uses a technique that he calls “blacknosing” to deal with white teachers who are uncomfortable with black pupils, but most observations about race are presented from T.J.’s white-centered perspective (“When Jonathan came over that Saturday afternoon, it must have been the first time a black person other than the garbage man ever walked through our neighborhood”). For the most part, however, this is an emotionally satisfying story of friendship and a well-written sports tale.

A generally solid novel about baseball and growing up in a time of change.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5320-5208-8

Page Count: 226

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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