Michael Arroyo loves baseball more than anything else in the world, except his beloved older brother, Carlos, and his recently deceased father, Papi. Michael is the star pitcher of his little league baseball team. The are on fire and just might make it to the Little League World Series. Michael is having an awesome summer, playing baseball, Listening to his beloved Yankees, hanging out with his comedian catcher best friend Manny, and making a new friend, quiet baseball-loving Ellie. The summer would be perfect, if it wasn't for the black cloud hanging over Michael's life. Papi dies in the spring and Michael and Carlos have kept it a secret from the authorities so they don't get separated. Meanwhile, Carlos is working two jobs to support them. The only people in on the secret are Manny and an elderly neighbor, who watches out for them. Another challenge arises as some coaches in the league, trying to eliminate Michael's eligibility so that thier teams can win the championship, demand to see Michael's birth certificate proving his age. Michael came to the United States from Cuba, where poor relations between countries and red-tape makes locating the certificate impossible. Michael must spend the end of the baseball season on the bench. Worse yet, Carlos turns to scalping Yankee tickets to make ends meet--and gets arrested. On top of everything a man from social services is sniffing around. Will the brothers get separated? Who is this Ellie who shows up in the park and then disappears? Will Michael ever locate his birth certificate and find his place back on the team? All loose ends are tied-up by the end of the book in a satisfying conclusion.
Baseball fever continues at the Fair Lawn Library with this solid selection for my fifth and sixth grade book discussion group. I love this book for book discussion: its a sports story, which appeals to the often overlooked boys in the group, yet offers much to discuss. Issues such as immigration, honesty, and social and economic inequality within the US are all explored. This book sparked a discussion in the group about relations with Cuba, which is very timely and relevant to current events. There is so much more than baseball happening in the story, but still enough of the sport to satisfy enthusiasts. Adding the character of Ellie makes the book accessible to girls as well as boys. Michael must make many ethical decisions and he doesn't always do the right thing, making him a believable character and the reader learns from his mistakes. The adults in the book are supportive and helpful. I particularly liked Michael and Manny's coach, who has a great attitude about playing. He takes the game seriously, but encourages the kids to have fun and emphasizes sportsmanship. Manny is also a great character for the comic relief and he and Michael make a great team. Also, the book is set in New York (my favorite setting) and features the Yankees, which is an added bonus. Great baseball fun with some serious issues to chew on adds up to a great book for young people, which I highly recommend.