Friday, March 05, 2021

Guy Friday- Hunter's Choice and Singled Out

Reedy, Trent. Hunter's Choice
March 2nd 2021 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoiler Alert**
This is more exciting if you don't know what is going to happen, but I suspect that many teachers and librarians are not going to read the whole book, which gives lots of hunting play-by-plays and has some gory moments. If you intend to read this book and don't want to ruin the suspense, don't read this review!

Hunter's family is very involved in hunting in the wilds of Idaho. His great-grandfather built a hunting lodge that the family still uses. Hunter is finally twelve, and has completed a hunting safety course and is fully licensed for his first hunt. His marksmanship is excellent, so his dad is sure that he can take down a deer, although Hunter is less sure of his own emotional capacity to kill a living creature. When the time arrives to go to the lodge, he is disappointed that his cousin Yumi and her friend Annette are also coming along. Hunter likes his cousin; she's one of his good friends, and he has a tiny crush on Annette. Hunting has always been a bastion of male bonding for him, and he is afraid of embarrassing himself in front of his Uncle Rick, grandfather, dad, and now the girls. Annette is not allowed to touch guns, but is writing notes for an article for the school paper. Yumi is angry with her dad, a vet who has done tours in Afghanistan, and who has been struggling with some issues even though he has been back for quite a while. When Hunter has an impressive buck in his sites, he is unable to shoot it, although Yumi brings the animal down. The deer needs to be tracked, since it is fatally injured but still moving, and when his uncle twists his ankle, he and Annette are the ones to find the animal. The group starts to field dress the deer, and are almost attacked by a wolf. Hunter's quick thinking allows him to shoot the wolf not once, but twice, and he makes sure the animal is dead before lowering his rifle. He doesn't have a license to hunt a wolf, but Annette has taken video with her phone, so his uncle is able to provide proof to the local game warden that the wolf was shot in self-defense. Hunter still feels a little conflicted that he didn't shoot the buck, but Annette's article in the school paper about him saving the family from the attack lets him fend off the comments of jerky classmates with ease. 
Strengths: So, here's my level of general squeamishness-- I don't eat much meat because I don't even like slicing it! This was a fantastic book even for someone like me, and for students who hunt, this is the equivalent of a Green or Lupica title for football players. There are so many wonderful details about what to wear when hunting, descriptions of equipment, and procedures and processes for safety. Even small things like getting up early and walking to where the hunting will take place is very thoroughly covered. Hunter's ambivalence is very realistic, and his fear that people will think he is a coward is interesting. Even better is his uncle's counsel that Hunter's reluctance was NOT in any way fear, but was motivated from an appreciation of the wild animal he was contemplating killing. I was a bit leery of the appearance of the girls in the story, but that ends up being rather inspired. Yumi's difficulties with her father are serious and addressed well, but don't interfere with the story. Annette is very invested in the experience and is a fantastic female character who holds her own in a totally foreign environment. This is a very fast-paced story which will hook readers right from the start. An excellent, excellent title. 
Weaknesses: The pages in the E ARC turned soooo slowly, which was especially tortuous since the end of the chapters (where the book would freeze) were almost always cliffhangers! Paper versions will not have this problem, and this was such a tight, well constructed story that I can't really list any other weaknesses! 
What I really think: This is definitely a must purchase for middle school libraries, especially where deer hunting is prevalent and Gebhart's There Will Be Bears (2014) is popular. Reedy writes such interesting books, and the details about hunting in Hunter's Choice will appeal to readers who hunt or who are interested in the sport, while discussing the philosophical aspects of it in a way that teachers and librarians will appreciate. 

Maraniss, Andrew. Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke
March 2nd 2021 by Philomel Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maraniss, whose Strong Inside covered Black basketball player Perry Wallace, turns his incredible research skills the the story of Glenn Burke. While it is fascinating and noteworthy that Burke is documented as having delivered the first high five as we know it today, his story is important for a variety of other reasons. Drawing on an impressive array of books and articles, interviews, and Burke's own autobiography, written with Eric Sherman, Out at Home, Maraniss paints a vivid portrait not only of the first openly gay major league baseball player, but the times in which he lived. 

Starting with Burke's childhood in the Bay Area, we see how Burke's life was a constant mixture of success (being on television and a record album) and challenges (his father was abusive and then absent). He discovered athletics early on, and played throughout his school years. College was more challenging, since academics weren't all that interesting to him, and college sports participation rely on success in academics. Burke's ball skills, however, were so phenomenal that the Los Angeles Dodgers recruited him for their farm team when he was just very young. He was an enthusiastic player, and well liked by his teammates, and was soon moved to the main team. We see the ups and downs of being involved in a professional ball team, and there is plenty of baseball described that I didn't completely understand. 

What this book does particularly well is to describe what was going on in Burke's life against the background of what was occurring in the world at large. While Burke was just one of many Black ballplayers in the 1970s, there was still a lot of racial prejudices with which he had to deal. While there were other players who were helpful, like Dusty Baker, there were still a lot of issues. It's not surprising, since we're still seeing issues with racism in sports today. 

The bigger issue, of course, is that fact that Burke was gay. The book portrays him as not quite knowing what to do with this information himself at first, which seems very accurate. The perception about and treatment of gay people in the 1970s, which somewhat better than it was in the 1950s, was still very problematic. I can remember a teacher in my high school being fired in the early 1980s just under the suspicion of being gay, and it's easy to forget how near in time the early 80s were to the Stonewall Riots. Maraniss does a great job of detailing incidents which occurred in Burke's life and showing how they were colored by the events going on in the world at the time. I had forgotten how wide spread Anita Bryant's vitriol was. 

Despite his athletic prowess, Burke's struggles in dealing with how being Black and gay affected him caused him to have problems in his life. The Dodgers offered him a bonus if he would get married to a woman so that he could escape the suspicion of being gay, and he had odd relationships with Tommy Lasorda, whose own son was gay, something the older Lasorda denied, as well as Billy Martin. I know so little about baseball that I started this book thinking the Dodgers were based in Brooklyn (they moved in 1958), but even I remember that Billy Martin was kind of a jerk. All of these factors played into Burke eventually leaving baseball, and then finding it hard to make a living. 

A lot of the book discusses the San Francisco gay scene in the Castro district in the early 80s, and the advent of the AIDS virus. What a devastating thing for that community, and what unfortunate timing for Burke to have finally found a community where he felt at home. Even though I was a teenager at the time, I had forgotten how badly people with AIDS were treated, and the fear in which they were held. I found this portion of the book every bit as illuminative as the descriptions of Burke's ball career. 

This was an incredibly all inclusive coverage of Burke's life, and it was heartbreaking. Maraniss does a good job at being circumspect about incidents, so this would be okay for upper middle grade readers, but the length of the book, as well as the emotionally devastating contents, might make it more suited for high school ones. Sex is  mentioned, although not in detail, and there is also drug and alcohol use portrayed. 

The chapter notes, list of resources, and gay rights timeline are all very useful, and the number of interviews the author did is impressive. While I normally like to see books about the Black experience or gay issues written by #OwnVoices authors, the author is very thorough in documenting occurrences, sincere in wanting to shed light on how people were mistreated, and seems to have had the manuscript checked by several readers, so I hope that the portrayals are acceptable. Singled Out is certainly an important book on topics that are timely and much needed. 


  1. That was tricky re Hunter's Choice - I didn't know if I wanted to read it without reading your review but I wanted to read enough to know if you liked it enough for me to read it. I shut one eye so I couldn't read it well (which I realize is pretty silly - it is clearly way past my bed time). But I think my nephews would like this.

  2. I grew up in a family of small-game hunters, but my brother hunted deer with bow and arrow. I knew how to pluck a pheasant and skin a rabbit -- didn't bother me as a kid, but it does now. This book would appeal to kids who like to hunt. And, I like seeing a competitive female hunter included in the story. Enjoyed your review!