Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Strike Three, You're Dead by Josh Berk

Lenny is a doofus that is easy to love. My favorite scene is when Maria, a girl Lenny has just met, grabs his bike from him when he offers to give her a ride. Maria makes Lenny sit on the handlebars while she pedals like the figurehead of a ship. He is wearing a helmet that matches the Mikes. That's right. He has two best friends named, Mike and Other Mike. A nice play on words for a kid who is terrific at announcing baseball games. In fact, he's so good that he won a contest to announce the 6th inning of a Phillie's game. When a 19-year-old upcoming pitcher drops dead on the mound, Lenny and the Mikes decide to solve the mystery of his death. Lenny's not much of an athletic. When Maria takes off racing the Mikes on their bikes with Lenny on the handlebar she causes Lenny's head to fling back like he's on a roller coaster. Maria keeps smacking the back of his helmet and she wins the race easily. I appreciate authors that upend stereotypes. These quirky characters are guaranteed to make you laugh with their witty descriptions, silly dialogue, and close friendship.

Time out. Can I tell you a story? Good. The reason I love this novel's bike scene is that it reminds me of the my first scooter ride with my husband when we moved to Taipei, Taiwan. His midlife crisis was to buy a sporty red scooter. I bought a metallic pink helmet. Very kicky. We'd never owned a scooter and the first ride into the mountains on a summer day was stressful. After starting the engine, he held the scooter while I tried to launch myself behind him. I got half a leg and thigh over before almost topping us to the ground. "Holy Cow!" he yelled barely keeping it upright. By the time I got on the back he took off only to have his Minnesota dairy cow-of-a-wife whack her cute pink helmet against his. I tried to wrap my arms around him, but like two bobble-heads we kept thunking helmets every time he changed speed. Thunk, thunk, thunk went our helmets just getting out of the parking lot. "Man, would you stop hitting me?" My husband said over his shoulder. "Put your visor up!" I'm thinking there is no way in bloody 'ell that I'm gonna put my visor up unless I have a mouth guard. We get into the street and I start to perspire. Not the slight perspiration you get from a brisk walk, but the run-down-the-leg-in-a-stream sweat. Taipei is littered with a bazillion scooters, buses to dodge, cars pulling in and out willy-nilly, and people everywhere. I had visions of us being road kill. "Ugh... you're sweating on me," he muttered. I only slid off the back of the bike once going up a switch back. The scooter has since been sold. But I digress. Honest, this book will have you snorting food out your nose. When Lenny tries to seal a spit-handshake with Maria he can't project enough saliva so he licks his hand. (That reminded me of Junie B. Jones licking her patent leather shoes clean so they'd shine.) The author cleverly uses baseball metaphors and similes throughout the book to strengthen the setting and characters that firmly anchors the baseball plot.

This isn't like a sports novel where the character is playing the game, it is about the character that loves the game. Lenny is an avid fan who loves trivial facts about the game, watching the game, and pretend announcing the game. It is through this skill that the boys are able to solve the mystery of the dead pitcher. Lenny would like to grow up and be a sports announcer. His father and mother are both cardiologists who would like him to go to med school. So often kids are at odds with their parents' vision of a career. The librarian calls Lenny and the Mikes, Cerberus, because they like answer in unison, wear matching bike helmets, and can act like three-headed monsters at times. When Maria joins the trio he changes their name to Brahma, the four-headed god. He mocks, "'Instead of the three of you guys acting as one, now you're a four-headed beast. What dangers hath I wrought?' he said. Then he smiled. Librarians are sort of weird."

The author fleshes out these characters with unique voices. When Lenny makes a video for an announcing contest he paints a mustache on his face with a marker then delivers some witty lines. The author balances wit with silly humor that readers will love, such as "pee" and "fart." This week I had 3rd graders changing the html code from "TAS Lower School Library" to "Poop is Awesome." The "poop" word just tickles their funny fecal bone. They would have liked Lenny's joke about and IP address as an I pee address. Although the Lenny trio doesn't enter the poop joke zone. The great descriptions of characters had me sitting through a faculty meeting thinking, Oh look, those two look like the number 10. "Mrs. Other Mike was always laughing. She was as plump and short as Mr. Other Mike was tall and skinny. Standing next to each other, they looked like the number ten." While describing a ball player's huge hands Lenny says they looked like "five magic wands." Then there is the goofy Other Mike that adores Warlock video games and doesn't really like baseball.

The entire novel has baseball metaphors that enrich the text in serious and humorous ways. When he is laying down in bed trying to sleep he can't because questions are zooming through his head like "fastballs crossing the plate. Zoom! Did R.J. Weathers really have a heart attack? Whoosh! Is that possible for someone so young and so healthy? Whiz! Could it be possible that he was killed? Zip! Was that crazy PhilzFan1 somehow involved?" The plot is stretched in some places but it is so dang funny, I didn't care. The villain could have been fleshed out more and the ending felt a bit rushed too, but there is a sequel, so I went online and ordered it for our library.

Maria is a strong character and even Courtney, who appears stereotypical at first, is an atypical babysitter. Different themes add depth to the plot such as inappropriate use of the Internet and untended consequences. Maria is not careful with her wording on a fan site and it is misconstrued getting her in trouble. Another theme involves the difficulties that Cuban players face trying to get into United State's major league baseball. Also, when Mike is told to go out for catcher on the school team, Lenny has to deal with his feelings about why this makes him unhappy. He's rude to Mike until he acts like a true friend that wants what is best for Mike. Josh Berk has great command of his fastball in this "razzle-dazzle" novel. Add it to your book shelves.

4 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment