4.5 55
by Betsy Byars

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You can't always decide where life will take you—especially when you're a kid.

Carlie knows she's got no say in what happens to her. Stuck in a foster home with two other kids, Harvey and Thomas J, she's just a pinball being bounced from bumper to bumper. As soon as you get settled, somebody puts another coin in the machine and


You can't always decide where life will take you—especially when you're a kid.

Carlie knows she's got no say in what happens to her. Stuck in a foster home with two other kids, Harvey and Thomas J, she's just a pinball being bounced from bumper to bumper. As soon as you get settled, somebody puts another coin in the machine and off you go again. But against her will and her better judgment, Carlie and the boys become friends. And all three of them start to see that they can take control of their own Iives.

Carlie knows she's got no say in what happens to her. Stuck in a foster home with two other kids, Harvey and Thomas J, she's just a pinball being bounced from bumper to bumper. As soon as you get settled, somebody puts another coin in the machine and off you go again. But against her will and her beter judgement, Carlie and the boys become friends. And all three of them start to see that they can take control of their own lives.

Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
A former winner of the Newbery Award scores again with a story that has poignancy, perception, and humor.
Jim Trelease
A hopeful, loving, and very witty book. No wonder 58,000 school children in Georgia voted it their favorite.
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Byars tackles the tough issues of child abandonment and abuse through a close look at three foster children who have to keep moving like pinballs and never get to settle. Byars' skillful storytelling never downplays the pain inherent in these situations at the same time that she presents resilient characters who eventually connect with one another and with their caretakers. 1996 (orig.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Apple Paperback Series
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Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 7.68(h) x 0.32(d)
600L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

One summer two boys and a girl went to a foster home to live together.

One of the boys was Harvey. He had two broken legs. He got them when he was run over by his father's new Grand Am.

The day of his accident was supposed to be one of the happiest of Harvey's life. He had written an essay on "Why I Am Proud to Be, an American," and he had won third prize. Two dollars. His father had promised to drive him to the meeting and watch him get the award. The winners and their parents were going to have their pictures taken for the newspaper.

When the time came, to go, Harvey's father said, "What are you doing in the car?" Harvey had been sitting them waiting, for fifteen minutes. He was wearing a tie for the first time in his life. "Get out, Harvey, I'm late as it is."

"Get out?"

"Yes, get out."

Harvey did not move. He sat staring straight ahead.

He said, "But this is the night I get my award. You promised you'd take me."

"I didn't promise. I said I would if I could."

"No, you promised. You said if I'd quit bugging you about it, you'd take me. You promised." He still did not look at his father.

"Get out, Harvey."


"I'm telling you for the last time, Harvey. Get out."

"Drive me to the meeting and I'll get out."

"You'll get out when I say!" Harvey's father wanted to get to a poker game at the Elks Club, and he was already late. "And I say you get out now." With that, the father leaned over, opened the door and pushed Harvey out of the car.

Harvey landed on his knees in the grass. He jumped to his feet. He grabbed for the car door.His father locked it.

Now Harvey looked at his father. His father's face was as red as if it had been turned inside out.

Quickly Harvey ran around the front of the car to try and open the other door. When he was directly in front of the car, his father accidentally threw the car into drive instead of reverse. In that wrong gear, he stepped on the gas, ran over Harvey and broke both his legs.

The court had taken Harvey away from his father and put him in the foster home "until such time as the father can control his drinking and make a safe home for the boy."

The second boy was Thomas J. He didn't know whom he belonged to. When he was two years old someone had left him in front of a farmhouse like he was an unwanted puppy. The farmhouse belonged to two old ladies, the Benson twins, who were then eighty-two years old. They were the oldest living twins in the state. Every year on their birthday they got letters of congratulation from the governor. They were exactly alike except that one's eyes, nose and mouth were a little bigger than the other's. They looked like matching salt-and-pepper shakers.

Thomas J had stayed with the twins for six years. The twins had meant to take him into town and tell the authorities, but they had kept putting it off. First it was because he was pleasant company, later because he was good help in the garden.

When the twins broke their hips at age eighty-eight Thomas J was discovered for the first time by the authorities. Nobody knew who he was or where he had come from. He was sent to the foster home "until such time as his real identity can be established or permanent adoptive parents located."

The girl was Carlie. She was as hard to crack as a coconut. She never said anything polite. When anyone how she was, she answered "What's it to you?" or "Bug off." Her main fun was watching television, and she threw things at people who blocked her view. Even the dog had been hit with TV Guide when he stepped in front of the set when Sonny and Cher were singing "I Got You, Babe."

Carlie had to go to the foster home because she couldn't get along with her stepfather. She had had two stepfathers, but the new one, Russell, was the worst. He was mean to everybody in the family, but especially to Carlie. He resented everything she did.

Once he had hit her so hard when she wouldn't tell himwhere she'd been that she had gotten a concussion. Even with a concussion she had struggled up and hit him with a double-boiler. "Nobody hits me without getting hit back," she had said before she collapsed.

Carlie was to stay at the foster home "until the home situation stabilizes."

"Stabilizes!" Carlie had said to the social worker in charge of her case. "What does that mean?"

"It means until your mother and your stepfather work out their problems."

"Whoo," Carlie said, "that means I'll stay until I'm ready for the old folks home."

The first thing Carlie did when she got to the foster home was pull the plastic footrest up close to the TV. "Don't talk to me when 'Young and Restless' is on," she warned the foster mother, who was standing behind her.

"I just wanted to welcome you," Mrs. Mason said. She put one hand on Carlie's back.

Carlie shook it off. "Welcome me during the commercial," she said.

The Pinballs. Copyright © by Betsy Byars. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Betsy Byars is a widely read and loved author of many award-winning middle-grade books for children, including Summer Of The Swans (Viking), a 1971 Newbery Medal winner. The Pinballs was an ALA Notable Children's Book in 1977 as well as the basis for an ABC Afterschool Special. Other books she has written for HarperCollins are Good-bye, Chicken Little; The Seven Treasure Hunts, illustrated by Jennifer Barrett; and three I Can Read Books, the popular The Golly Sisters Go West, Hooray For The Golly Sisters!, and The Golly Sisters Ride Again, all illustrated by Sue Truesdell. Ms. Byars lives in Clemson, South Carolina, with her husband.

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Pinballs 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 55 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Normally, I hate to read. But I had to do a book report and the librarian recomended it. So I gave it a try, and I loved it. Every night I would read at least 3 chapters!!!
cloclocoolol More than 1 year ago
This is a really good book -I read it in french class- and it really shows reality. I thought the cover wasn't good in the french version, but this cover is awful-proof to not trust a book by its cover. It talks about how kids can get wounded up in a foster home in some weird circumstances-such as Thomas J- or surprising ones, and very emotional (divorce, etc.) -such as Carlie- or very, very, deceiving and sad ones-such as Harvey. It's not the best book I've ever read- that's Halo, by Alexandra Adornetto- but it's a really good one to show reality. Read it. It is an
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book may be sad but it is a great and heartwarming book. You connect withthecharacters
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very sad at the begining,but then it is very happy because three foster children that move to the same house get to know each other more than before. My favorite character is Carlie because she is always likes to know whats going on and is VERY tough. Each of the three foster children that moved in to the Masons house have a sad story in their past.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Outstanding book. My new all time favorite. I usually don't read much but my mom made me read so I chose this book and I couldn't put it down. It's the BEST!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am 32 years old and had a wonderful 4th grade teacher who read to us all the time. This is the book I remember most of all. I am a counselor and work with foster children in a youth shelter. This book is special to me and many others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book I read ot in ONE day
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read this book a billion times since i bought it and i advise that you buy it and do the same.........................................................youre still here?i thought youd be halfway through the book already! GO AND BUY IT,FOR CHRIST'S SAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
NebraskaIcebergs More than 1 year ago
It didn’t surprise me to read that Betsy Byars has received more letters about The Pinballs than about any of her other books. Of all her books that I have read, The Pinballs is one of my favorites. I love the three main characters. The plot is perfectly balanced. Even the writing style immediately impressed me. The Pinballs is a classic for many sound reasons. More than anything, the characters are distinct and memorable. Meet Carlie. Byars tells us she is as hard to crack as a coconut. Carlie also never says anything polite. And yet despite her negative attitude, which includes being suspicious of everyone, I like Carlie. Partly I feel sympathy for her. One paragraph particularly stands out in Byars description of Carlie, “For some reason insults didn’t hurt her. People could insult her all day long, and she would insult them right back. But let somebody say something polite or nice to her—it made her feel terrible.” Partly I like her because, over time, Carlie lets down her defenses. She begins to have normal conversations with others, even to the point of being concerned when one of the foster kids emotionally shuts down. That would be Harvey. He has two broken legs. He got them when he was run over by his father’s new Grand Am. Of course, Harvey prefers that others think that instead he got injured while playing football. Then everyone would sign his cast and girls would even kiss his cast and leave their lipstick prints. What keeps Harvey going, despite the tragedies in his life, is the belief that his mom will one day return for him. She left three years ago for a commune in Virginia, where she went to find herself and reconnect with nature. Oddly, given Carlie’s attitude that foster kids are pinballs who have no control over their lives, it’s Harvey whom the foster parents feel needs the most support. And they feel Carlie is the one who is most likely to be able to give that support, which Harvey desperately needs when he finally accepts that his mother doesn’t care about her family. The third character is Thomas J. His story and personality are also unique. Byars writes that Thomas J didn’t know to whom he belonged. When he was only two years old, someone left him in front of the Benson farmhouse like an unwanted puppy. The Bensons were the oldest living twins in the state and he had stayed with them for six years, until at age eighty-eight they broke their hips. Thomas J had lived with the Benson twins so long that when he moves into his new foster home, he about everything because that’s the only way the Bensons could hear him. Even when he learns to speak quietly, Thomas J still barely talks to anyone. Communicating how he feels is something that Thomas J never learned to do, a fact which weighs on him most when he visits the Benson twins in the hospital and aches to tell them that he loves them. When an author stacks as much against their characters as Byars does in The Pinballs, two approaches are common. One is to weigh down the characters with such misery that their lives are devoid of happiness. I dislike this approach because, when I read fiction, I want my books to reassure me that life has hope. Byars avoids this by providing the foster kids with foster parents who empathize with their situations. A memorable example is that of Mr. Mason’s conversation with Thomas J, when Mr. Mason shares that he took five years to tell his own wife that he loved her. Byars also avoids this approach by infusing humor and warmth into her story. The second approach is to give the antagonists a change of heart, allowing the characters to live well-adjusted lives. While this is a valid solution, it can also feel unrealistic. In The Pinballs, besides the three foster kids being given a safe place to live, the most important change instead occurs within each of them. Before I conclude this review, I want to mention the writing style. I read a lot of young adult books, where emotional pathos is the norm. While that is part of their appeal to me, I also found myself struck by how little emotional pathos exists within The Pinballs. We find out how insecure Carlie is not through introspection but through learning that she’s developed a certain way of smiling to hide her crooked teeth. We discover how troubled Harvey is not through introspection either, but by the multiple lists he keeps, which Carlie keeps trying to see. With Thomas J, Byars does provide some introspection. This is how we learn that Thomas J remains curious about that morning when the twins first discovered him in their yard. However, even here, Byars mostly uses fleshed-out flashbacks filled with revealing dialog. In The Pinballs, Byars tackles topics often covered only in young adult books, but with such a controlled style that the result is a book appropriate to younger readers too. The first day I read The Pinballs, I loved it. The feeling never changes, no matter how times I reread it. If you haven’t yet discovered Byars, start with The Pinballs and then move on to any of her other numerous books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading in class thought it was about a pinball machine
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was good my class read it for E.L.A it very intresting to see how some kids feel that are in foster homes I do think people should read it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was not to obsessed about this book for my summer reading program but now I am loving it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the whole book and i thought that it was amazing and i loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best thing or book ever
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read it and i have loved every section and chapter of this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amaing book. I dont usually like the Guided Reading books my teacher picks but i am in love with this one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm in sixth grade and we're reading this book, we're only in the first chapter and the entire class loves it!!! Including me! Amazing book already!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so good! My teacher has assigned us to read this. I am only on like chapter 5 but it is so good.
The_smart_warriors_reader More than 1 year ago
This book is soooo good. my teacher had it in her library and I picked it up. It was way better than I had expected! I wish there was a sequel to this. It is simple, yet deep. You can connect with how the characters feel. This book is a must read.