Thursday, March 26, 2020

Baseball Opening Day 2020 and Martin McLean, Middle School Queen

Kamata, Suzanne. Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters
March 2020 by Red Chair Press
ARC provided by the publisher

Satoshi Matsumoto lives in Japan, but spent several years going to school in Atlanta, Georgia, while his father was working there. It was hard enough to fit in with kids in the US, but it's even hard to fit in back at home. He goes to a private school that his grandfather founded, but since his father didn't want to run it, it is under different ownership. His grandfather is elderly and exhibiting many signs of dementia. Satoshi loves to play baseball, and his grandfather was very good when he was young, although he never got a chance to play professionally. When he hears that the school may not have a team the following year unless there are more wins, he tries to step up, but has problems with another boy on the team, Shintaro, whose father may have ties to local gangsters, and also doesn't always want to listen to what the coach tells him. A new girl at school, Misa, is a social outcast because her mother is American, but Satoshi's mother invites the two over, and Misa befriends his sister, Momoko, who has an unnamed disability of which Satoshi is ashamed. After big problems occur with the baseball team, Satoshi must call on the American English teacher, Jerry, to help him with the team, but all of that pales when his grandfather wanders off and can't be found. Will Satoshi be able to get his life back on track and save baseball at his school?
Strengths: Details of every day life in other countries fascinate me, so reading about Satoshi going to the mall, attending classes, and cleaning the baseball field with his team were very interesting. We even get a glimpse at a Japanese barbershop when Satoshi gets a bozu cut for playing baseball. The plot with his grandfather is interesting (he has a robotic pet seal, which I enjoyed because I have been researching robotic dogs!), and Misa's difficulties mirror Satoshi's when he lived in the US. Of course, the big selling point of the book is baseball, and there are plenty of game details, as well as practice ones, to make this book one sports fans will enjoy.
Weaknesses: Some of the social mores made me wonder if this book was set in the 1980s-- children at school call Momoko "retarded", there is an "English Lunch" that Satoshi says must be code for "losers" because there is an overweight boy and a girl with an eye patch, and the students feel free to laugh at others when they mistakenly leave on their toilet shoes when coming into the class. US middle grade fiction has become so politically correct in recent years that this seemed odd, but could very well reflect life in another country.
What I really think: This is available in hardcover from Follett, so I will purchase this as a snapshot of life in Japan. Many years ago, I hosted a teacher from Japan for three weeks, and it was very interesting to hear about their schools!

Zaczek, Alyssa. Martin McLean, Middle School Queen
January 7th 2020 by Sterling Children's
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Martin Lives with his artist mom (who is Afro-Cuban) in Bloomingtom, Indiana, but his father, who is of Irish descent, lives with his new family. When Martin has an anxiety attack at school and his concerned teacher calls home, his mother invites his Tío Billy to stay with them and be a male influence for a while, while he and his husband are moving to Chicago. Billy takes Martin to a club near campus that puts on drag shows. Martin is surprised that Billy is a performer (aka Cassie Blanca), but also enthralled by the idea. He explores creating an alter identity with his uncle and comes up with Lottie Leon, whom he bases a bit on the performer Celia Cruz. While he and his uncle bond over heels and wigs, Martin also has to lead his school Mathletes team to competition. He hangs out with his friends Pickle (who is very small for his age) and Carmen as well. Both of his friends are very supportive of his new interest, and they are also okay with the fact that Martin thinks he might be gay, but isn't really sure. When he starts to hang out with Chris, another mathlete, he finds him attractive and starts to think that he may be gay, but the two just become better friends. When the local all-ages drag competition is at the same time as the mathletes one, Martin must rely on his friends and family for help in taking part in both.
Strengths: This is certainly the first middle grade book I've seen about the world of drag performing, although I have read a YA one years ago. Martin's family situation is interesting, with the very common fact of having his father live far away and the uncommon fact of his mother being an artist blending together well. Billy is a good addition, and his interest in introducing Martin to his world is understandable. Bloomington is fortunately more open to drag performing than Ohio is, but there is apparently youth interest in it. Playing off the extrovert activity of performing against the somewhat introvert one of mathletes was fun. Also, I got to learn about an art form that was completely foreign to me, and even looked up the video of RuPaul singing Sissy That Walk.
Weaknesses: It was a bit of a stretch for me that Martin went from being a quiet mathlete to wanting to do drag so much. It seemed an abrupt shift, although his feeling of empowerment while in character was described well.
What I really think: I had a brief upswing in students interested in theatrics and performing when we had a teacher who ran a drama club, but I will have to see how much interest there is now that that teacher has left. Books on this topic usually gather dust, but I do have a growing population interested in LGBTQIA+ books, so I will consider purchasing.
Ms. Yingling March 2020 by Red Chair Press

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