Friday, April 10, 2020

Golden Arm

Deuker, Carl. Golden Arm
April 7th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Lazarus Weathers lives in the Jet City trailer park in Seattle with his mother and half brother, Antonio. He has a job at a nearby golf course, and manages to play ball on a couple of teams. When his school team is disbanded because a large percentage of the players get in trouble, he turns to his rec league coach for help. Laz is good, but he isn't going to get the attention of scouts playing for school teams like North Central. After his school's team disbands, he is allowed to go to another school to play, and is asked by the father of a Laurelhurst player to consider that school. At the same time, the trailer park is going to be torn down, and the reappearance of Antonio's father puts the family at four-- too large for the best choice for housing, which is 25 miles away. He moves in with the Laurelhurst family, who are nice to him, even if he feels awkward living in their basement. There's always food, they give him a computer to use, and the school is much better as well. Laz has struggled in school, partly due to his stutter, and he is able to get tutoring at Laurelhurst to bring his grades up. He's still concerned about Antonio's friends, because he hangs out with a known pill pusher. There is also a girl, Suja, at North Central whom Laz really likes, so he keeps returning to the neighborhood to see her and to work at the golf course until it closes. The Laurelhurst team does well, and Laz could possibly get a job on a pro team if he plays his cards right, which will enable him to have a place to live when he graduates from high school. When a crisis with Antonio causes him to miss a championship game and also taints his image, will he be able to make his baseball dreams come true?
Strengths: Deuker always writes such intricately deep sports stories, and this one is excellent. Laz's life in the trailer park, trying to make ends meet, is a compelling story without the sports, but his drive to make a career out of his talent will appeal to young readers even more. There's never any certainty about what might happen next-- I was definitely kept on the edge of my seat reading this one. We see just enough of Antonio's life to be worried about him, and to know how much Laz cares about him, so that it's not a surprise that he goes to his aid. The culture shock of going to Laurelhurst is handled well, and the details of being scouted are realistic but not overly hopeful. The light romance, as well as a side story with a local reporter, adds even more depth. It's very evident that Deuker puts a lot of care and thought into his writing!
Weaknesses: This is a bit more of a high school book, given the length. There's also just a tiny bit that gave me pause for middle school; when Antonio's father moves in, Laz is worried that he and his mother will "have sex" and it will be awkward in the small trailer. There are no details, and even the most naive 6th grader will have heard that phrase, but it is there.
What I really think: It's usually my football and basketball fans that want grittier inner city stories, but I love Deuker's work so much that I will buy this for my die hard 8th grade baseball readers who have read everything else I have. The cover is fantastic.

Ms. Yingling

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