ISBN 0061626864 - As a baseball fan, I'll read any baseball book - statistical analysis to childrens' book. As a parent and former coach, I especially like childrens' books that ring true, partly because they remind me of my kid - now playing college ball. This book doesn't quite ring true and I detract a star for that, but it is good, it's very readable and I think the target audience will look past things that bother me.
Josh is following in his father's footsteps. Mr LeBlanc is the MVP of a Triple A farm team and Josh is better than his father was at his age, in part because his father is determined to make it so. Josh's skills between the lines catch the eye, and the heart, of new girl and baseball fanatic Jaden, who crowns him the great hope of the school's team in an article in the school paper. Meanwhile, cut from the team when he is deemed over the hill, Josh's dad turns his energy to Josh's baseball future, forcing him to quit his high school team and join an elite travel team coached by Rocky Valentine. Jaden and Benji, Josh's best friend, don't like this news and friendships are strained - until Josh finds himself in over his head and in need of help.
The story is great. It's well written and a very easy read. This is a huge thing in books geared toward boys, who are often the more reluctant readers. My problems with the book - First, there's Josh's dad. I've known plenty of has-been and never-were ballplayers who live vicariously through their sons and I found the "anything to win" outlook believable. What is not believable is that the man worked his entire life in a sport currently and frequently in the news for steroid abuse, from the MLB players to high school aged kids, and he failed to question, or even suspect, the training system in use by Coach Valentine. Sorry, but I don't buy it. Also - U14? 14U = 14 and Under. U14 would seem to mean Under 14 - so why are there 14 year olds on the team?
Next, I have two problems with Josh and his friends. Talk about precocious twelve year olds! The conversations they have are off. Maybe one of them, most plausibly Jaden, might speak as if they were adults, but the whole lot of them? Not only does this not ring true, but it seems to me that it creates an unintentional distance, so that the average 12 year old reading the book would see the characters as older and not immediately relatable. That would put the lesson in the "won't matter until I'm older" category and THAT would be counter-productive. Beyond conversations, there are the romantic entanglements that (a) simply don't work for 12 year olds and (b) add nothing to the story. Green seems to back off the romance with a stilted conversation in which two twelve year olds attempt to define "going out". I cringed.
Last, the book itself, a couple small things. The chapters are bizarre. Sometimes, the chapter will end almost mid-conversation, which is weird but it gets weirder - the scene continues in the next chapter. So why have a chapter break? Especially since some of the chapters are just barely a full page of text, spread out over two pages with a lot of white space. The amount of white space also bothers me, if only because it's a waste of paper. The font is huge, appropriate to books for younger kids, but wrong in a book for older ones.
The good news is, none of this ruins the story much. The topic is compelling and timely, one all baseball fans, young adults and adults, will enjoy. And, if you've got a budding baseball great of your own, it's a nice, non-preachy way to enlighten them about the very real dangers of steroids.