cover image Close Call

Close Call

Todd Strasser. Putnam Publishing Group, $15.99 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23134-6

Strasser (Kidnap Kids; Help! I'm Trapped in Obedience School) covers all the bases in his latest middle-grade caper, whose winning elements include fully formed characters, snappy, credible dialogue and a quick-moving plot that tackles real-life issues with a light touch. Baseball fanatics, Ian and his friends would happily spend every afternoon on the diamond, but things get in the way: ordinarily cheerful Jenny begins refuting reasonable calls against her, runs off the field when she doesn't get her way and gradually becomes a no-show. On some days a group of high school tough guys, among them Jenny's stepbrother, throws rocks at the youngsters and forces them to abandon their games. Ian, an unusually level-headed and thoughtful 11-year-old, reaches out to the troubled Jenny and her stepbrother with the help of his perceptive mother who, the boy muses, sometimes would ""ask just enough questions to get you thinking about something. Then she'd leave you to figure out the rest on your own."" Strasser's solid story should score points with girls as well as boys, especially those more accustomed to holding a baseball glove than a book. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)