The Only Game by Mike Lupica (Home Team series, #1). Simon & Shuster, 2015. 321 pages.
Bottom Line: Character values and the drama of baseball itself take the field in The Only Game, while character development and plot remain on the bench.
Walton is a sports town and the “only game” is baseball. Everyone expects Jack Callahan, star pitcher of one of their best little league teams, to lead his boys to victory in the region—maybe go all the way to the Little League World Series. So Jack’s friends and family are stunned when he quits the team on the first day of practice. He says his heart’s not in it, but those closest to him suspect it has a lot to do with the accidental death of his brother Brad the year before. They’re right, but only Jack knows the specific reason, and he can’t tell. When he does return to the game (I’ll give that much away), he’ll bring more back than he took away—more friends, more heart, and more understanding.
Except for Brad’s accident, nothing awful happens. Most of the drama comes from baseball itself—the plays, the tactics, the last-minute saves and misses. If you love the game, you’ll love this novel. For non-baseball fans the attraction won’t be as strong, as there’s little in the way of sustained tension. Misunderstandings get resolved fairly easily and the deepest emotions remain unplumbed—but that’s fine for the kind of book it is. Sports novels for kids tend to showcase clean living, healthy competition, striving for and reaching goals, and facing down fears. Friends are true-blue, enemies can be won over, and parents usually know best. (Good observation from Jack’s new friend Cassie: Parents see stuff. As much as we think they don’t.) Also, everybody goes to church but feel no need to call on God any other time—we overcome by our own efforts. This might be worth pointing out to your middle-grade readers, or maybe not—your call. The love of the game is sometimes its own justification.
Also by this author: Million Dollar Throw
Overall Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
- Worldview Rating: 4
- Artistic Rating: 3.5
Categories: Middle Grades, Realistic Fiction, Sports, Character Values
Cover image from Amazon