Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Fiction Book Review: Fielder's Choice

Today, Day 15 of my Gratitude Challenge, I am giving thanks for my awesome in-laws.  As a therapist, I often hear stories about in-laws from hell.  It's actually quite shocking how crazy things can get because of petty jealousies, misunderstandings and/or disputes over money.  My in-laws have always been extremely warm, loving, generous and supportive.  Just yesterday, Adam and I both had to work late, so my mother-in-law picked the girls up from daycare, brought them back to our place, and fed them dinner. She rocks!

Okay, and now for another book review...

I get asked to review a lot of books.  It should come as no surprise that most of them fall into the fitness/nutrition/health category.  But recently I was asked to review a novel called Fielder's Choice.  I am an avid fiction reader and the premise sounded interesting, so I eagerly agreed.

The book, a first novel for author J. Mark Hart, is about a 17-year-old boy who plays baseball, growing up in Birmingham, Alabama in 1969.  It is a coming-of-age story revolving around how the protagonist (Brad) negotiates his typical teenage priorities (girls and baseball) with his burgeoning interest in civil rights and peace activism.

I have always found the 1960s to be a very interesting period of American history.  Perhaps this is because my parents lived through it, and, having grown up in the U.S., they were closer to the civil rights/anti-war movements than most folks I know who grew up in Canada.  Or, maybe its simply because being socially conscious lefties, they instilled in me the importance of social activism.

 In any case, I actually have read very little history or fiction about the time.  For this reason, I would have appreciated a lot more background on what was going on socially and politically at the time.  Only after researching it later did I discover what a central role Birmingham played in the American civil rights movement, but I am assuming this book was written with an American audience in mind and Americans - despite their incredible ignorance of everything that happens OUTSIDE of the U.S. - are much more familiar with this history.  You can read a little summary of it here.

My other biggest complaint about the book is that there is far too much description of baseball games being played.  While not superfluous to the story, I simply hate watching or reading about organized sports.  But that's just me, and I suspect baseball-crazy Americans will be fine with this.

I think Hart writes well and does an excellent job of capturing the voice of a 17-year-old boy, although I think he could have developed in more depth Brad's thoughts and feelings about segregation and the Vietnam War.  While seemingly bothered by racism, he doesn't express much thought or emotion about his parents' efforts to keep black families from moving into their neighbourhood, and even seems to support their opinion that this was necessary.  But perhaps this was an intentional attempt to convey his conflicted feelings about a complex situation.

I also think the book is a bit too long, but that being said, I had no problem continuing to turn the pages and was eager to finish the story.

Overall, a very good effort for a first time novelist and definitely worth a read.