Friday, September 13, 2019

Cracking the Bell and Strike Zone (Heat #2)

Herbach, Geoff. Cracking the Bell
September 10th 2019 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Isaiah's family has struggled after the death of his sister in a car accident that wasn't her fault. The parents divorced, and Isaiah got in so much trouble that he had to spend some time institutionalized and was finally given the choice by his father-- either play football, or stay in the institution until he graduated. Football has been good for Isaiah. It has given him structure, a support group, and a long term goal of playing at college. When his poor tackling technique (head down!) causes him to sustain a significant concussion, he tries to hide it, getting up after being knocked out on the field, and continuing about his evening even though he later has no recollection of his actions. When he throws up the next day and feels unable to concentrate or even stand up for too long, his mother takes him to the doctor, who says that the concussion on top of earlier ones puts him at greater risk in the future, and that he would advise Isaiah not play football any more. That's enough for his mother, who doesn't want to lose another child, but Isaiah and his father are unwilling to give up the activity. Isaiah does a lot of soul searching about his sister's death, his relationship with the troubled Grace, and his plans for the future if he decides to quit football.

Herbach writes tremendous Young Adult novels about characters who love sports and use them as a framework for their very existence. This is so true of many young people, and this depth of involvement in sports is rarely shown in books. To then take this focus away from a character because of a very current and real concern about the lasting impact of concussions is brilliant. Isaiah is a character with a troubled past who has been able to turn things around through his participation in football, and watching as he determines whether he can maintain these positive changes without the sport is fascinating. The varied cast supporting characters work with Isaiah in an interesting way; they are all people Isaiah cares about, but they all seem somehow less important to him than football, with the exception of Grace.

There's just enough football descriptions to hold the interest of sports fans, who will hopefully use this book to think about their own health concerning head trauma. Like Greenwald's Game Changer, Lupica's Lone Stars, Korman's Pop, Northrop's Plunked or Weyn's Full Impact, Cracking the Bell considers the many facets of traumatic brain injury and its effect on young sports enthusiasts.

Lupica, Mike. Strike Zone (Heat #2)
September 10th 2019 by Philomel Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Nick Garcia's baseball team, the Blazers, is playing in the Dream League championships, and Nick hopes that his pitching is good enough to earn him the MVP award, which would let him throw out the first pitch at a Yankees game. He and his friends are all doing their best, and since Nick loves baseball, he has a good chance, even though he has an old mitt and has to listen to Yankees games on the radio. He feels a strong kinship with one of the star players, Michael Arroyo, who had a difficult time growing up, losing his father and being undocumented immigrant (I think this is not a real player; the one who shows up in an internet search is from Puerto Rico). His friend Marisol is supportive of his playing, but Nick is careful around her; her father is a police officer, and his father is an undocumented immigrant who has a police record for a minor offense. Nick's father and mother came to the US on tourist visas from the Dominican Republic, have jobs, and pay taxes, but are waiting for Nick's sister Amelia to turn 21 and sponsor them for citizenship. Amelia suffers from lupus, and her medical treatments are hard for the family to manage, although there are some clinics in their Bronz neighborhood that have been helpful. Nick has seen a strange man hanging around the neighborhood, and thinks he is on of the ICE agents responsible for arresting one of his neighbors, so is worried when the man shows up at his baseball game. It turns out that Mr. Gasson is an attorney who helps immigrants, and he gives Nick his information. This is useful when Mr. Garcia is attacked by a drunk outside the hospital when he and Nick have taken Amelia in for an emergency and Mr. Garcia is arrested. He ends up in prison, and the family is frantic. Will his father be able to work with ICE and not be deported? Help comes from an unexpected person.
Strengths: This is a timely story, even though it is not an #ownvoices one, and it's interesting to pick up a character from a previous book. As always, Lupica does great girl characters, and Marisol has her own interest in tennis, and has a very equal relationship with Nick. The baseball details are a good way to break up the episodes of Nick's anxiety over his sister and his parents.
Weaknesses: The first book, Heat (2006), is no longer in print in hardback. My copy certainly hasn't circulated much. I have plenty of baseball books, and there are more readers who want football and basketball books.
What I really think: Debating. I do have two copies of Heat, and it's not essential to read that book first; I certainly don't remember anything about it! I would be buying this for the immigration story more than the baseball aspect of it.

I live in Ohio State Buckeye country, so a lot of teacher wear Buckeye gear on Fridays. This is as close as I come.
Ms. Yingling

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