cover image Sticks


Joan Bauer. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32165-5

A family-run pool hall in a blue-collar New Jersey town plays backdrop to Bauer's (Thwonk; Squashed) surprisingly sluggish novel. Mickey Vernon's the name of the determined 10-year-old protagonist and nine-ball is the game he intends to win in the annual youth pool tournament. After all, pool is in Mickey's blood--his long-dead father was a champion and his no-nonsense grandmother still owns and runs Vernon's Pool Hall, site of the approaching nine-ball showdown. But Mickey discovers it's going to take more than desire and talent to win. With coaching from his math-whiz best friend Arlen, as well as from Joseph Alvarez, a mysterious man from his father's past, Mickey just might have a shot at beating the likely champ, town bully Buck. Bauer attempts to stack her deck with potentially colorful characters, but Mickey lacks the emotional spark needed to engage an audience and his contrived world leaves readers feeling unfulfilled. Arlen's constant harping on the power of math in the game of pool verges on the preachy, while reservations about Alvarez prove a letdown in terms of dramatic payoff. Though the somewhat offbeat subject matter may be a draw for some middle graders, fans of the light humor and breezy style of Bauer's earlier works are likely to be disappointed. Ages 8-12. (June)