"Angelika gave me the ball. I turned it over in my fingers, and a huge lump grew in my throat. Suddenly, in my own head, I was back on that field, two years before. We had been playing in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, in a big park, and there were train tracks passing maybe a hundred feet away, parallel to the third base line. As a pitcher, the line of sight was pretty strange, too, because there was a parking lot directly behind the backstop. It was a blindingly sunny, baking-hot day, and a horrible glare was coming off this one white SUV parked right over the umpire's left shoulder.The grass had just been cut, and the whole place smelled a little bit like onions. When I came back to reality, I realized Angelika had been clicking away.Also, that she had stopped. 'Oh, my God, Pete,' she said. 'Are you crying?'"
Jordan Sonnenblick's CURVEBALL is a really sweet boy-girl story about Peter and Angelika, two high school freshmen -- Advanced Photography classmates -- who become the sports photographers for their school's yearbook. It is also a story of friendships and family and what happens as a result of Peter and his maternal grandfather each being in denial of their respective medical conditions.
Peter Friedman has been a star pitcher since he was a little kid. Two years earlier, he pitched a no-hitter in a championship game. Now, because he has kept the pain in his pitching elbow secret from everyone all season -- until the elbow falls apart -- he has to undergo serious reconstructive surgery and will never pitch again. His best friend, golden boy AJ, is also an exceptional pitcher and the two have always played catcher for each other's pitching starts. Now Peter doesn't have it in him to tell AJ the truth: there is zero chance of their becoming teammates in the spring on the high school JV squad.
Meanwhile, Peter has been placed in the Advanced Photography class as a high school freshman thanks to his lifelong close relationship with his widower grandfather, a professional photographer who makes his money shooting weddings, who has always loved taking Peter out to do nature photography, who has always photographed Peter's athletic triumphs, and who has taught Peter how to "get the shot." But this quality time together means that Peter is the one who sees that his grandfather is clearly experiencing repeated episodes of forgetfulness, blanking out, and other potential signs of Alzheimers Disease. Peter is placed in a stressful situation as his grandfather repeatedly pressures Peter not to tell his mother about what is happening with her father.
"Lipstick cherry all over the lens as she's falling" -- Duran Duran, "Girls on Film"
Into the middle of this thicket of dilemma comes cute and smart Angelika Stone, who is certainly not above becoming a bit jealous of hot female varsity athletes that Peter must photograph, but is a girl who understands how to be a real friend. Angelika knows all about Alzheimers Disease, having watched her grandmother battle it, and she becomes Peter's rock.
Having friends whose parents have battled Alzheimers Disease, but still not knowing as much as I should about it, Jordan Sonnenblick has brought light to this issue for me. Similarly, readers will come to recognize the potential for permanent damage that comes from ignoring symptoms of injury in order to play at any cost. And, as with Sol in NOTES FROM THE MIDNIGHT DRIVER, another of Sonnenblick's outstanding middle school reads, Peter's grandfather in CURVE BALL is a memorable elderly character who has lots to share. Get the picture?
Recommended by Richie Partington, MLIS, California See more of his recommendations at Richie's Picks: http://richiespicks.com
With one pitch eighth-grader Peter destroys his pitching arm and loses his coveted status as an athlete just before starting his freshman year of high school. The threads of his life are unraveling big time.
Peter has been lucky in the past to have his Gramps in his life. Gramps is a photographer and now with sports erased from Peter's calendar, Peter is turning to cameras, lenses, f-stops and even the truth and power of a candid shot to fill his time and satisfy his evolving sense of self. But Gramps is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.
The story is a blend of humor and poignancy told with sensitivity, a touch of vulnerability and an ache to find a sturdy place to stand in the shifting sands of high school and the toll of aging on loved ones. Four out of five stars.
308 pages 978-0545320696 Ages 12 and up
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com