Cochrane (Sport) revisits the baseball diamond in this unhurried novel about a girl with a mean knuckleball ("Molly loved watching one of her knuckleballs in flight, but what she felt was not self-admiration at all, just simple curiosity. What was this one going to do?"). Dealing with her father's death in a car accident six months prior and her mother's subsequent zombie-like disinterest in life, Molly hopes that playing on the eighth-grade boys' baseball team will keep her connected to her dad. Molly is bolstered by her free-spirited friend, Celia (who steals every scene she's in), and Lonnie, a kindhearted, artistically inclined catcher. Cochrane offers poignant flashbacks of father-daughter bonding, realistic mother-daughter squabbling and some nail-biting moments on the pitcher's mound, but some readers may find the story's pace sluggish. Still, Cochrane's honest, quiet prose should find fans, as Molly finally pitches a winning game, earns the respect of her teammates and symbolically "lets go" of her need to understand her dad's death. Ages 10-up.
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Children's Literature - Sharon Oliver
Eighth grader Molly Williams has more than the usual share of problems. Her father was killed in a car accident, and her mother has become withdrawn in her grief. Now, Molly has decided that instead of playing softball this year, she's going to try out for the boys' baseball team as a pitcher. Negotiating through this new version of her life proves challenging for Molly, who is still trying to make sense of her father's sudden demise. Even as Molly deals with the new version of her mother and some resistance from the girls at school, she manages to make an impression on the baseball coach with her knuckleball. Molly's father taught her the knuckleball, also known as "throwing butterflies," and she wants to carry this legacy with her. Molly's voice is dead-on for a middle school girl and draws the reader into her story. She manages to work her way through each obstacle in a way that is captivating and completely realistic. The "girl playing boys' sports" story has been told before, but instead of the usual focus on the battle for acceptance, this novel focuses on Molly's emotional journey and her efforts to figure out exactly where she belongs in her life now. This is a memorable read with appeal for both boys and girls. It would be an excellent addition to any collection. Reviewer: Sharon Oliver
School Library Journal
In this sensitive sports novel, a thoughtful eighth grader works through the grief she feels over her father's death. In the months following his car accident, Molly's comfortable life has been turned upside down and her mother has become a stranger. Molly and her father had always been close; as they played catch together, he passed along his love of baseball and much of his philosophy of life as well. A loyal fan of lovable losers like the Chicago Cubs, he taught Molly to throw a knuckleball, a pitch that flutters like a butterfly. He told her: "You don't aim a butterfly. You release it." Molly finds comfort in her memories and decides to try out for the boys' baseball team. She meets some resistance from her teammates, but with the help of a sympathetic coach and friends, she earns a spot on the team. In Molly, Cochrane crafts an awkward yet engaging heroine whose perceptions and interactions with family, friends, and supporting characters ring true. Crisply written sports action balances the internal drama. Suggest this well-written character study to readers who enjoyed Kristi Roberts's My Thirteenth Season (Holt, 2005) and Karen Day's No Cream Puffs (Random, 2008).-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
With tender poignancy, Cochrane gets right to the heart of young Molly's painful journey. Her father died in an accident, and her mother has withdrawn to deal with her own pain. She shared a love of baseball with her father, which seems to be her only tenuous connection to the happiness she once knew. He taught her how to throw a knuckleball, and she uses that unique skill to join the boys' baseball team. With loving encouragement from some dear friends and some leaps of faith, she comes to terms with the changes in her life. Careful to avoid pathos, the author is particularly adept at capturing just the right turn of phrase as Molly narrates her story. She sees herself as a "brave-hearted poster girl, Miss Difficulty Overcome," and as someone who "had become an island." Impeccable syntax lends authenticity to the rocky road that is middle school, baseball practices and games, and to Molly's relationships with her peers and with her mother. Lovely and memorable. (Fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2009:
“Impeccable syntax lends authenticity to the rocky road that is middle school, baseball practices and games, and to Molly’s relationships with her peers and with her mother. Lovely and memorable.”
Read an Excerpt
1. A HEARTBREAKING DREAM ABOUT TOAST
On Monday, after band rehearsal and intramurals, when Molly got home from school, her mother was sitting at the kitchen table going through the day's mail. It was after six, daylight saving time now, and still light, thank god. Even in Buffalo, the snowiest, grayest place on earth, spring eventually came.
Her mother had changed from her work clothes into her white designer sweats, matching pants and top with padded shoulders, which made her look to Molly like a fencer--all she needed was a little red heart.
She had cable news playing low on the countertop portable, a bottle of water and a pile of catalogs in front of her. It was what her mother did after work. Her ritual unwinding. She'd page through the glossy daily stack of catalogs one by one, turning the pages mechanically, looking irritated, angry even, fierce lines on her forehead. It seemed mysterious to Molly. Was her mother mad at Eddie Bauer? At Pottery Barn and Talbots? Dissatisfied with L.L.Bean's selection of boots and raingear, with Williams-Sonoma's pots and pans? It didn't make any sense. Her mother occasionally bought stuff, blouses and sweaters usually, always the same color, teal, which was weird enough--how much teal-colored clothing do you need, really?
As far as Molly could tell, her mother almost always returned whatever she bought. The UPS guy brought packages, and her mother opened them, unpinned and unfolded and held things up, sometimes tried them on. But then she'd usually just reassemble the packages and readdress them. She drove them around in her car for a few days and eventually dropped them off at the post office. To Molly, it seemed like a lot of work. Why subject yourself to such misery? What was the point?
Molly had learned not to interrupt her. Her mother was in some distant, ticked-off, unreachable place--the Planet of Inexplicable Exasperation. Molly put down her backpack and saxophone case, grabbed an apple from the fridge, sat down, and waited. There was nothing that looked like dinner happening anywhere in the kitchen. Why bother cooking for just the two of us? her mother had gotten into the habit of asking. Sometimes, with her dad at work, they used to make dinner together, Molly and her mother. They used to wash and chop vegetables and talk and even joke a little. Molly liked it--it was like their own little cooking show. But no more, not for a long time. That show got canceled. Nowadays they mostly ordered out, subs or Chinese, pizza and wings. Molly missed her dad's cooking. He had only a handful of meals, spaghetti and stir-fry and omelets and meat loaf, that was his rotation, nothing fancy, but always tasty.
On television the square-headed security czar seemed to be changing the threat level while baseball scores crawled across the bottom of the screen. The Cubs had beaten the Pirates, 12-1, which pleased Molly, because it would have pleased her father. They were his team. He'd grown up listening to their games on the radio. The Cubs were lovable losers. They hadn't won the World Series for something like a hundred years. No matter. Her dad had always paid attention to the scores, and now, out of habit, Molly couldn't help but do the same.
"So how was your day?" her mother asked, her eyes still scanning the Sharper Image catalog in front of her--ionizing air cleaners, massage chairs, turbo-groomers.
"Fine," Molly said. Most days this was the right answer. It meant that she had negotiated another day without disaster, steered her little boat through the rocky waters of eighth grade without capsizing. She hadn't failed anything, she hadn't been given detention. In the past ten hours she'd done nothing to ruffle her mother's sense of well-being.
"What about rehearsal?" her mother asked. Sometimes she wanted more. What her English teacher called "supporting detail." She needed to "show" not "tell" her mother about the fineness of her day. Specifics. Molly would offer up something, a success, a little academic triumph she'd been saving--"You know that social studies test I was studying for? I got a ninety-eight!"
This was just what her mother wanted: evidence that Molly was a Good Kid on the Right Path, a girl making Smart Choices, the daughter of a Good Mother. Yes, her father had died six months ago--exactly six months ago; today was the anniversary, the fourth of April. But she was doing fine, she was resilient. Molly understood her part in this story perfectly: She was the brave-hearted poster girl, Miss Difficulty Overcome.
"We're playing a movie medley for the pops concert," Molly said. "Star Wars, The Pink Panther. I might get a solo."
"That's great," her mother said.
"And I lent Ryan Vogel my last reed. I need to get some more.”
"That was nice of you."
What Molly didn't tell her mother was that Ryan, the other tenor player, who had toxic BO and dog breath, who was a volcano of rude eruptions and nasty remarks, had pointed toward her case with his own last, wrecked, saliva-covered reed and grunted something--she'd recognized only "gimme." She'd tossed him her entire pack and hoped he'd leave her alone. There was nothing nice about the transaction; it felt like a holdup, a mugging.
"Very nice of me," Molly said, and smiled a dopey, mock-charming smile. She framed her face with her fingers and tilted her head. "I'm a very nice person."
There was so much she couldn't tell her mother. How, for example, she had dreamed about her father again the night before. It was nothing especially dreamlike, nothing weird or unusual, nothing symbolic. On the contrary, it was beautifully ordinary. Her dad, sitting across from her at the kitchen table, spreading jam on a piece of toast, wearing his favorite plaid shirt, frayed at the collar, his weekend shirt.
In the dream her dad smiled, a little sadly, maybe, as if he knew something she didn't, and handed her a plate with the toast on it, two slices, strawberry jam, cut diagonally, and it looked perfect, the most delicious thing imaginable. She could smell that warm-toast smell, even in her dream, the best, coziest smell in the world. And when she was wrenched out of her dream and back into the world--her mother rapping on her bedroom door as she walked by, "Six-thirty, Molly, time to get up"--it was terrible, like another death, just as cruel.
What would be the point? Maybe her mother had her own dreams. In the past six months, Molly had come to understand that the most important stuff, what was closest to the bone, was just what you never talked about. There were no words for it. A heartbreaking dream about toast. The trivial and silly is what you spend your day chattering about. You could ask your friends how they liked your hair, but you could never ask them what you really wanted to know: Is there hope for me, yes or no?
From the Hardcover edition.