Extra Innings

Robert Newton Peck, Author
Robert Newton Peck, Author HarperCollins Publishers $16.99 (192p) ISBN 978-0-06-028867-9
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Only the most ardent of baseball fans will likely cotton to this preachy, maudlin effort from the author of The Day No Pigs Would Die. When the rest of his immediate family dies in a plane accident, teenager Tate Stonemason survives. His leg shattered, he struggles with his grief, especially in giving up his dream of pitching in the major leagues. By the end, Tate conquers his inner demons with the help of his great-aunt Vidalia, an African-American woman adopted into his family after spending her early years touring with a ""colored"" baseball team called Ethiopia's Clowns. Peck devotes the second third of the book to Vidalia's history and the last third to Tate's great-grandfather, Abbott, so readers never fully identify with the young protagonist's predicament. Worldly Aunt Vidalia is a little too perfect, and Tate's worship of her is so artificially worded it rarely sounds authentic: ""Vidalia, you are so wise, it's eerie,"" says Tate. ""Is there anything you don't know? Honestly, is there?"" The best parts of Peck's novel chronicle the sports adventures of Vidalia's childhood, which vividly capture the politics of mixed-race baseball in the 1930s. Elsewhere, clunky writing bogs down this tale in service of a moral. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)
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