Fantasy Baseball

Take me home!
by Alan M. Gratz | Children's Books |
ISBN: 9780803734630 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 12/2/2019
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Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Monday, December 02, 2019
I got this ex-library hardcover from Better World Books (delivered in the aftermath of a heavy snowstorm!) as another release copy.

I enjoyed Gratz' novel Samurai Shortstop very much, and when I found he'd written a book about fantasy baseball in which the "fantasy" part is quite literal, I had to give it a try. (The hero's team is the Oz Cyclones, just to give you some idea!)

The book's written for somewhat younger readers than I'd expected, given his other books - I think the target audience here is 9-12 or thereabouts, though it's certainly enjoyable by those of us who are a wee bit older than that {grin}. And while it's lively and amusing overall, there are some dark undertones - including one that really surprised and frightened me...

The story opens with young Alex waking up to find himself on a bus, facing a man-sized frog in a baseball jersey. ("Gah!" says Alex; an understandable reaction.) Turns out he's mistaken, though; this isn't a frog, it's a toad - *the* Toad, of Toad Hall. (This is where the "name the source material" game begins, at least for those who weren't already doing so based on the cover picture.) Alex, being a modern-day kid who apparently wasn't big on classic kid-lit, does not seem to realize who he's talking to, and when he meets more characters - a patchwork girl, a girl named Dorothy, a talking rabbit - things don't seem any clearer for him. (The winged monkey tips him off to the Oz connection, but even then he's just more convinced that he's dreaming.)

My first big laugh came when Alex, having been told that the Cyclones are the worst team in the tournament, replies that this is wonderful; as he points out, "Don't you see? It's classic! 'A ragtag group of misfits comes together for the first time when a mysterious new player joins the team and leads them to victory!'" (He goes on to add that it's a Cinderella story, but Dorothy points out that Cinderella plays for the Royals. I'm still giggling.)

As one might expect, baseball games played by teams consisting of assorted fictional characters with wildly varying skill-sets, magical abilities, and fatal flaws can be a bit chaotic. [So can real games, come to that.] Alex and his team have to deal with all sorts of surprises, from the disappearance of one team member to an out-and-out attack by the (very) Big (very) Bad Wolf. It takes a few chapters for all this to work out, and it's chapter 5 before Alex is told about the world of Ever After: "As long as children keep believing, we live on," says Dorothy. But Alex isn't a fictional character - he's a Lark, someone dreamed up by somebody in the real world - basically, a daydream, and thus likely to disappear very quickly, hence the rarity of Larks on baseball teams. "Alex, face it: You're the daydream of a boy who wishes he was a baseball star." And the reason why Dorothy chose her team members as she did was in hopes that they might win the tournament - the winners get wishes from the wizard of Oz, and she hopes that will keep them from disappearing...

As to whose dream Alex is, and why he's lasted as long as he has - we begin to get some hints about that via brief snippets at the beginnings of some chapters. And those hints are surprisingly grim; it really took me aback. It added a sense of urgency to Alex's time in Ever After as well - will he last long enough to lead the Cyclones to victory?

The games go on, with interesting side trips to evade attacks from outside the games or to cope with unusual events on the field. "What is it with Ever After and baseball?" asks Alex. "Why is everybody here so crazy for it?"

"Are you kidding?" is the reply. "'Wait 'til next year' has to be the biggest dream of all time." So true!

Throughout the story, I enjoyed playing spot-the-reference, and while I've read a LOT of children's books there were still a few characters I didn't know. But I spotted many others, and was delighted at the variety - old classics were there as well as recent additions. At one point the Cyclones play the Super Happy All-Star Manga Team Squad ("They all have such big eyes and small mouths," observes Toad), which include a boy with rockets in his legs, a girl in a sailor outfit, a scrawny boy who can stretch like he's made of rubber... Sadly, Dorothy doesn't enjoy seeing what the modern kid-lit characters are like, and goes into a funk; will Alex be able to carry the team to victory?

There's a lot more story to go, but I won't spill it all. Our heroes run into plenty of obstacles, some with sly references to modern-day inconveniences, others with delightful crossover puns (think "Dorothy" and "going home" for some idea). There's another shocking development for Alex - this really might be a little rough for some kids. There's a game against a team consisting of characters from baseball stories - I was tickled to find that, yes, their shortstop is indeed a samurai {grin}. There's an unnerving visit to the Wild Woods, where lost characters go - including Larks, with whispers of "Nobody notices me" and "I'm so stupid": "Larks whose believers know better but refuse to give up their dreams, and it's driving them mad". (Heavy stuff, but then, many of the children's classics have equally grim aspects, don't they... If you want to know just how grim, there's a huge spoiler in the whitespace - select it to see: In the real world, Alex is in the hospital having what appears to be chemotherapy, and is failing fast. If dream-Alex wins his wish, will he try to save his real-world self even at the risk of disappearing from Ever After?)

I liked the way the book ended up, though some might have preferred more explicit answers to some of the more wrenching questions. Still, the theme of the book has to do with belief, so - how do you hope it ends?

While I enjoyed Gratz' other books a bit more than this one, I liked this quite a bit, and I'll be on the lookout for more of Gratz' work.

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Little Free Library, Nashua Field in Windham, New Hampshire USA on Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Released 1 mo ago (12/10/2019 UTC) at Little Free Library, Nashua Field in Windham, New Hampshire USA

WILD RELEASE NOTES:

I left this book in the Little Free Library on this rather soggy day; hope someone enjoys it!

[See other recent releases in NH here.]

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