Gr 4-6—On the official opening day of baseball in his small town, Jack Callahan, superlative seventh grade shortstop and arguably the best pitcher in town, surprisingly quits at the end of an outstanding first practice. Jack and his best friend Gus had expected to be strong contenders in the Atlantic League with aspirations of playing in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. Believing that an earlier tragedy involving his older brother Brad was all his fault, Jack takes a break from the only game he ever loved. This hiatus is short-lived, and he soon finds himself back at the diamond coaching girls softball. Slowly, he makes it back to his own team. Loyalty, friendship, courage, and teamwork are key components in the novel. Jack and his teammates have a falling out after Jack's decision to quit the team before the season even starts. This leads to new friendships with Cassie, a strong female character, and Teddy, an overweight, friendly guy whom Jack protects from bullying. Various acts of courage are displayed by Cassie, Teddy, and Jack. Lupica lays the foundation for a great sports series where friendship carries the characters through tribulations. Middle-grade readers will easily identify with the four friends. Although the story is sports related, this is more than a baseball book and will appeal to a wide variety of readers. A must-buy.—Glynis Jean Wray, Ocean County Library, Toms River, NJCopyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Lupica (Game Changers) launches the Home Team series with a novel that meshes themes of baseball, friendship, and facing one's fears. Seventh-grader Jack Callahan is his team's star pitcher and shortstop, so everyone is shocked when he quits baseball during the lead-up to the Little League World Series. "My heart's not in it," he tells his disappointed parents, before spilling the real reason he's abandoning the team: "Baseball won't bring my brother back." Lupica thoughtfully explores Jack's belief that he could have saved his daredevil older brother, Brad, who died the previous year in a dirt-bike accident. Cassie, an ace softball pitcher, reaches out to Jack, offering no-nonsense counsel about his misplaced guilt while subtly encouraging his return to the diamond. Jack, in turn, helps a much-teased classmate by coaching him in self-confidence and baseball. Lupica again proves his aptitude for lacing lightning-speed sports action with credible insight into players' thoughts and emotions. This, along with Cassie's pivotal role, should give the novel a wide reach and appeal. Ages 8-12. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Feb.)Copyright 2015 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.