Plunked

Jack Mogens is in the sixth grade and is ready to start Little League. It’s going to be the best year ever in his career. All he has to do is make the starting team. And work on hitting those inside pitches. And talk to Katie (shortstop) without completely losing it. He’s set.  But when a crazy pitch finds Jack defenseless, he finds out that his love for baseball might not be enough to get him back in the game. Will he ever be able to play baseball again?

When a chapter book about baseball makes its way to your library reserve shelf it’s pretty awesome. When the book has a cool cover, it’s even better. When your seven year old son is begging to read it before you’ve walked through the library door, well, its pretty near nirvana.

Such was the case with me. It took me a few pages to get comfortable with the writing of the book (thankfully it wasn’t the editing this time). It’s written in the first person singular and, really, who wants to be inside the head of a sixth grade boy? The stream of consciousness and continued use of the edifying phrases “like” and “seriously” were almost enough to convince me to put the book down.  Alas, my boy is dying for a good, fun, book to read and while Jack is somewhat annoying, he’s not a bad kid. Geesh, I have neighbors like that.

But Jack proves to be a liar, too. He and his friend lie to his friend’s mother. And when that results in the smashing of Waterford Crystal (and the spilling of Irish Whiskey) he lies about who did it. While the boys are yelled at (and his friend loses the privilege of his X-Box) no real consequence ensues for Jack. And when Jack decides he is too afraid to play baseball but too embarrassed to admit it, he lies about hurting his wrist to get out of playing the game. His parents are aware of the truth, his coach suspects the truth, but no adult addresses the fear, or helps him to deal with it in a more suitable manner. Rather, Jack wrestles with his fear through the use of video games (killing soldiers); “pigging out” at McDonald’s, and isolating himself from his friends.

Now, I certainly understand the fact that men and women approach and resolve issues differently (my daughter and I would have talked endlessly about it), but what good is the “coming of age” part of the book if the protagonist doesn’t mature in the process?  Jack needs a father who will show him there are better ways to deal with being hit by a baseball than pretending to hurt your wrist. Fine. Sit out a game – but be a man about it and sit out the game because you go plunked with a baseball, not because you lied about your wrist. I’m not convinced that Jack won’t lie about the next uncomfortable situation he finds himself in. Or that his parents would object to the falsehood.

And you know what else I’m not convinced about? That Katie is on his team. A girl shortstop on a boys Little League Team?

**For the sake of this review, I’m going to completely ignore the bathroom humor.  In the wars that rage between the pages of books, when it comes to bathroom humor battles I find myself firmly planted in the “grudgingly-tolerate-it-in-small-doses” camp.  The book makes use of the deep affinity young boys have for such humor but, in my opinion, didn’t make it a point of going overboard (see my notes below).

  • Author: Michael Northrop
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2012)
  • Hardback 256 pages
  • Reading Age: Ages 8+

What You Need to Know

  • Role Models/Authority Figures - Both Jack and Andy are part of a two parent family.
  • Violence - “‘Hey Booger,’ I say, and nod to Ward Morgan, ‘swap seats.’ He’s scared of me. I’m going to miss being a jock.” (188)
  • Sexual Content - Jack has a crush on Katie (a fellow baseball player)
  • Language – Bathroom insults/jokes: jerk-butt; big red monkey butt, [dog] squats and takes a dump; Benny Mills farted doing pull-ups (and the detailed description); my bouncing balloon butt; king of turd. At practice, Jack sticks his head in his glove and “swears in the leather.” (235). “TV version [of Major League] so all the bad language is dubbed over in funny ways” (157)
  • Consumerism - Major League (movie); Sour Patch Kids; X-Box; McDonald’s; The Island of Dr. Moreau; one character nick-named Malfoy (after Harry Potter character); quotes from Full Metal Jacket (“What is your major malfunction?…I may even allow you to serve as a rifleman in my beloved corps”); reference to Gollum in The Lord of the Rings; Cable shows Discovery & Animal Planet. Jack has a cell phone, plays video games in his room.
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – Jack’s family is watching a movie and his dad is drinking a beer. ‘I’m getting another beer.’…’Don’t,’ Mom says, but he does.” (185)
  • Religion -
  • Other - Jack lies for his friend Andy about breaking Andy’s mother’s Waterford crystal and gets away with the lie. Jack lies about hurting his wrist because he doesn’t want to play baseball and while the adults (his parents and coach) know he is lying they ignore it, even when Jack decides its better and shows up for practice.. He only tells the truth to his friend Andy.
  • Awards

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