Thursday, February 02, 2023

The Grip

Stroman, Marcus and Thornhill, Samantha. The Grip
January 31, 2023 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Young Marcus loves baseball, but his father is a little intense about it. Even though his parents are divorced, his father comes over every morning so that Marcus can practice pitching before breakfast. His parents get along pretty well, and Marcus and his sister Sabria split their time between the two residences. This makes it a little difficult to remember everything that he needs, especially since he is playing baseball AND basketball. While he has some good friends like Danny and Kai on his teams, he also has to deal with James, who is constantly making fun of Marcus for being short. He tries to let James' comments bounce off of him, but as the pressure to make a travel team mounts, and a playing assessment looms, he finds it harder and harder to remain positive. His mother notices, and suggests that he see a therapist. There is a lot of talk about how "mental health coaches" are just as important for health as a doctor or dentist is, and Marcus' mother talks about how seeing a professional helped her when she was stressed about the divorce. Marcus finds the therapist to be helpful, and he even works with James when he realizes that James is facing similar pressures, and the two manage to reach a detente on the field. A second book in the series, The Error, is due out on June 20th, 2023.
Strengths: There should be a lot more collaborations with middle grade writers and sports figures. If the story is a solid one, they have popularity well beyond the sports figure because of the details of the sports information. I realize that publishing is all about making money, so if publishers can cash in on the celebrity, that's okay with me! The details about going back and forth between mom and dad's house are good, and helpful for young readers struggling with the same issue. Marcus and Sabria get along well enough, which is always good to see in a middle grade novel. The issue of playing two sports, and the stress that goes along with that, is well addressed. 
Weaknesses: There was a LOT of discussion about therapy and mental health. This is fine, but it got very repetitive and slowed the story down. With young readers, a light touch is best. Including further information about mental health at the end of the book would be more helpful. 
What I really think: Like the Barbers' Kick Off (2008), Stoudemire's Home Court, (basketball, 2012)  Jeter's The Contract (baseball, 2014), O'Neal's Little Shaq (basketball, 2015), Ripken's various baseball titles, and James' We Are Family (basketball, 2021, with the talented Andrea Williams) this is a good combination of semibiographical information, sports, and realistic middle grade problems. While I would have liked a little more baseball and fewer problems, I mentioned this to a 6th grader who loves baseball, and he was super excited to see something written by Strohman. Since sports books circulate constantly in my library, I will probably purchase, but hope that the next book is a bit heavier on the sports angle.

I do have a student who is so excited about this that he put it on hold at the public library, since I will be purchasing this in August. 
Ms. Yingling

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