The Barnes & Noble Review
Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon is now giving a nod to younger audiences with this wondrous fantasy triumph about magical parallel worlds, the legend of baseball, and one boy's amazing journey to save the universe.
Ethan Feld has never been prone to adventure or attention, especially since he's often ridiculed about his lame baseball playing. But after he awakens one day to find a werefox sitting on his chest, Ethan learns he's ripe for a "fantastic destiny" in the Summerlands -- part of a connected, hidden world, where small American Indian-like ferishers play ball, and evil Coyote is thirsty to destroy the universe. Ethan agrees to the job, but when his father is kidnapped, his mission becomes more personal than he bargained for. With a team of ragtag players called Big Chief Cinquefoil's Traveling Shadowtails All-Star Baseball Club -- including the feisty pitcher Jennifer T., Thor Wignutt (a boy who's not quite a boy), a she-Sasquatch named Taffy, and the Anaheim Angels' Rodrigo Buendía -- Ethan treks through the Summerlands playing against incredible creatures and an impending time limit, hoping to reach his dad. Little does he know, however, that his abilities will be tested in the biggest baseball showdown of all time.
In a breathtaking work, Chabon successfully weaves a solid American-made fantasy, incorporating Native American lore, tall tales, and our nation's greatest pastime to make a modern-day tale of good versus evil. Young readers and adults alike will be rooting for Ethan all the way during his odyssey, and they'll be intrigued at how Chabon portrays the origins of the world, along with the wickedness that's out to destroy it. With the awesomeness of Sandy Koufax's fastball and the drama of Ty Cobb's swing, Summerland is an adventure that keeps you riveted until the last play. Matt Warner
Reading Michael Chabon's new bookbilled by the publisher as an age-appropriate story "for young readers and adults alike"it's impossible to ignore the mental images of the inevitable movie adaptation. Summerland, with its cast of baseball-playing dwarves, giants and "werefoxes," its magic portals and parallel universes, its doomsday scenario and its motley-but-lovable crew of misfit kids from fictitious Clam Island, Washington, is surely destined to hit the big screen as a computer-enhanced live-action feature film a few years hence. A summer blockbuster is in the making for the kid in all of us.
The same qualities that could well make the movie unbearablethe unruly hodgepodge of characters, the hand-me-down baseball-as-life metaphors, the boilerplate late-inning heroicsactually conspire to make Summerland an amusing, if not entirely satisfying, read. Chabon, fresh off the widely admired film version of his novel Wonder Boys and the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, can now write his own ticket. He doesn't waste any time. Here he indulges a childhood obsession to match the comic book world of Kavalier and Claythe sport of baseball.
Chabon's improbable wonder boy, Ethan Feld, is a fairly well-adjusted kid, except when it comes to playing ball. At Summerland, the magically sun-drenched corner of otherwise sodden Clam Island, he plays the game mostly to appease his widower father, who cheers his son's every bobble, baserunning blunder and strikeout. A batted ball sails past Ethan, who is picking daisies out in right field, and it doesn't even register. "He was dimly aware of the other players chattering,pounding their gloves, teasing or encouraging each other, but he felt very far away from it all. He felt like the one balloon at a birthday party that comes loose from a lawn chair and floats off into the sky," writes Chabon, who has a truly marvelous feel for small descriptive moments. "A baseball landed nearby, and rolled away toward the fence at the edge of the field, as if it had someplace important to get to. Later it turned out that Ethan was supposed to have caught that ball."
Ethan's dad is something of a self-taught scientific genius, and his ingenuity attracts the attention of one Rob Padfoot, who turns out to be an accomplice of CoyoteChabon's rather fallible version of the devil himself. Mr. Feld is kidnapped and whisked off to an alternate plane, a living hell where Coyote is scheming to bring on the final calamitous inning of the world as we (and the various baseball-playing crossbreeds) know it.
Certainly young readers will delight in the author's masterful use of imagery, whatever they make of the story. When a band of marauding werewolves thunders past Ethan's hiding place, the author fully engages the audience's senses: "The yipping grew louder, and more joyous," Chabon writes, "and Ethan saw that the creatures had the shapes of men, and the heads of wolves, and the next moment he could smell their coats, rancid and sweet, a smell like the inside of your lunchbox at the end of a warm afternoon."
In creating Summerland, Chabon plunders the standard young boy's book (and video) library, from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to the requisite inspirational baseball yarnssuch as Bernard Malamud's The Natural and W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe. And he throws in several supernatural Harry Potter–style incidents for good measure. Clearly he wants in on the burgeoning big business of entertainment for kids.
Baseball, as we have heard countless times before, really does lend itself as an all-purpose allegory. The author makes the most of it, especially near the end of the book, when brave Ethan confronts an apparition that has tricked him into believing that he and his long-dead mother are reuniting.
"The sweetness of that bitter memory, of her embrace, of holding her again and hearing her voice, filled his heart so full that all the old healed places in it were broken all over again," Chabon writes in a climactic passage that makes all his far-flung fancies seem perfectly groomed for this realization. "And in that moment he feltfor the first time that optimistic and cheerful boy allowed himself to feelhow badly made life was, how flawed. No matter how richly furnished you made it, with all the noise and variety of Something, Nothing always found a way in, seeped through the cracks and patches. Mr. Feld was right; life was like baseball, filled with loss and error, with bad hops and wild pitches, a game in which even champions lost almost as often as they won, and even the best hitters were put out seventy percent of the time. Coyote was right to want to wipe it out, to call the whole sad thing on account of darkness."
That's not how the story ends, of course. Kids' tales can't end in desolation. Not while there are movies to be made.
It's worth wondering whether Summerland's baseball fixation might land with a thud among contemporary schoolchildren, like that high fly ball that eluded not just Ethan's grasp but his attention, too. The real-life major leagues have made a concerted effort in recent years to rebuild interest among young fans, but baseball is not America's favorite pastime the way it was, say, fifty years ago.
With Summerland, Chabon sometimes seems to be offering up a lavish new marketing endorsement for the sport. "Errors ... well, they are a part of life, Ethan," Mr. Feld tells his son in the opening chapter of the book. "Fouls and penalties, generally speaking, are not. That's why baseball is more like life than other games." Baseball buffs young and oldand you can count this reviewer among themwill never grow tired of such poetic pronouncements.
Following the death of his mother, a boy moves with this father to an island, where a mystical baseball scout recruits him for a special mission and escorts him through a gateway to a series of interconnected worlds. In a starred review, PW said that the author "hits a high-flying home run, creating a vivid fantasy where baseball is king." All ages. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Ethan Feld is a hopeless baseball player on Ruth's Fluff-N'-Fold Roosters, a team of losers playing summer league somewhere near Bellingham on the fictional Clam Island in Washington state. Unexpectedly, Ethan is approached by Cutbelly, a Werefox and Shadowtail, who can travel to the Four Worlds. He is scouting for a hero and needs Ethan's help against the coming end-of-the-world "Ragged Rock." So begins a journey of unlikely companions as Ethan and two fellow teammates journey to Summerland to form a team of sorts to play ball to save the world and Worlds. In Summerland, the great trickster Coyote is ready to put the Worlds down by poisoning the well that feeds the great tree on which the four World branches grow. Chabon manages to convey to readers the marvel of these inter-existing Worlds by fashioning a specific magic. In this magic leaves of a tree quadrant touch another quadrant, or "pleach," and travelers who know how can enter one of the Worlds through the link. Coyote, however, has been hacking these pleaches apart. The author knows how to keep many threads of a plot going, as evidenced here and in his adult book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Ethan's widower father, Bruce Feld, is an inventor whose talents and creations Coyote needs in order to succeed with his evil plan. The many characters, the many mythologies, and the American folklore Chabon moves readers through can easily overwhelm a reader. There's the "ferisher" world of fairies led by a chief, Cinquefoil; giants; a changeling; a Sasquatch named Taffy; La Llarona or "The Weeping Woman;" the Tall People led by Annie Christmas who played on Ethan's tag team; a hundred-year-old scout from the Negro leagues;and plenty of Native American lore including the faked lore of the Wa-He-Ta Braves who nonetheless with their earnestness play a part in Ethan's eventual triumph. Then there are the villains: Coyote and his minions; shadow people; a Bottom-Cat; and a ruthless ball team called the Hobs who agree to play Ethan for his key possession—a bat made from a splinter of wood from the great tree. The book comes in at under five hundred pages and has many marvelous characters including the savvy pitcher, Jennifer T. Rideout, whose parentage includes Salish Indians and a few old aunts who remember Summerland and Thor Wignutt, who really is a human misfit. Other satisfactions include Chabon's masterful hand with real conversation, his inventive plot, contemporary references that surprise, and the doings of the versatile family derigible which lifts an old Saab named Skidbladner. While it's all a bit overwhelming, readers who can conquer Harry Potter's enormousness and are familiar with high fantasy's good versus evil battles won't be bothered by the overloaded nature of this book. The ending is satisfying and understanding depends on the reader's careful remembering of how these Worlds were created. But it will take at least two reads to appreciate all that Chabon has tried to accomplish—and for the most part, has. A big American fantasy based on North American mythologies, folklore, and our sometimes mythical past and the great pastime of baseball. 2002, Hyperion,
Ethan Feld, "the worst baseball player in the history of the game," is the chosen one. To save his world, known as the Midling, and many other parallel worlds such as Summerland, Ethan must defeat the trickster Coyote. Coyote kidnaps Ethan's father as part of his plan to annihilate the universe, and Ethan travels the worlds in search of his father. With the help of his little league teammate, Jennifer T. Rideout, Ethan assembles enough allies for a baseball team that must face Coyote's team of demons, the Hobbledehoys, in a game that will determine whether or not the universe survives. Chabon, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (Random House, 2000/VOYA August 2001), draws from Native American mythology to create a fantasy world that rivals Tolkien's Middle-Earth in complexity. No doubt Chabon also had the Harry Potter craze in mind when he wrote the book, as the works of J. K. Rowling are also set in an alternate world populated by a plethora of fantastic creatures. The book is beautifully written, but few teen readers will be able to-or want to-navigate their way through Chabon's labyrinth of worlds. This book might be recommended for libraries that serve intense fantasy buffs between grades ten and twelve. Even those libraries, however, might frequently find the book sitting on the shelves in the teen section. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Hyperion/Disney, 512p,
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up-Ethan Feld, a less-than-mediocre Little League player, is recruited by Ringfinger Brown, an old-timer from the Negro Leagues, to play in the ball game of his life-and save the world. Ethan lives on Clam Island, WA, where a place called Summerland exists. It is a link to alternate worlds where fantastic creatures reside, ruled by the trickster Coyote, who has decided that he wants to put an end to the world. Ethan, an unlikely hero, begins his journey accompanied by his friends Jennifer T. Rideout and Thor Wignutt. Along the way, they face many obstacles (with outcomes often determined by baseball games) and are joined by all sorts of beings: a Sasquatch, a talking rat, a tiny giant, a major league ball player, and characters that readers may remember from legends and fairy tales. Readers will identify with Ethan and his motley crew with their insecurities, longings, family problems, and their sometimes clumsy ingenuity. Packed with magic, adventure, myth, and America's favorite pastime, this book will enchant its audience.-Kimberly L. Paone, Elizabeth Public Library, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
"Well, we got no choice, an' that's a fact. The Rade has showed up, years before we ever done expected them, and yer about ten years shy o' half-cooked, but we got no choice. There ain't no time ta go looking for another champion. I guess ya'll hafta do." Thus is 11-year-old Ethan Feld, the worst ballplayer in the history of the game, drafted by the Home Run King of three worlds to forestall the end of the world at Ragged Rock. Ragged Rock is not a place but a moment-the last out of the bottom of the ninth-and the Rade is the combined hordes of Coyote, the Changer, who is bent on poisoning the four great branches of the World Tree. After the death of his mother, however, Ethan hasn't much faith in his ability to be anybody's hero, but when his Zeppelin-designer father is kidnapped by Coyote to engineer Ragged Rock, he takes up a baseball-bat-sized chunk of the World Tree and joins the cause. Plaiting together elements from Scandinavian and Native American mythology, American legend, and world literature, Pulitzer-winner Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, 2000, etc.), writing for young people for the first time, constructs a uniquely American fantasy peopled by were-animals, sasquatches, giants, and ferishers-fairies who look like nothing so much as 18-inch-high storybook Indians-and fueled by a healthy reverence for the Great American Game. As catcher and slugger for Big Chief Cinquefoil's Traveling Shadowtails All-Star Baseball Club, Ethan is joined by Clam Island teammates Jennifer T. Rideout and Thor Wignutt, and an assortment of otherworldly supporters. Together they barnstorm across the Summerlands until, at Diamond Green, they meet Coyote and his team ofHobbledehoys, for one last, great game. The sprawling, vigorous narrative pulls out all the stops, gleefully reveling in the wonders it produces at every turn, from the magically ever-sunny corner of drizzly Clam Island to the varied denizens of the Summerlands. This raucous, exhilarating, joyful, and, above all, fun offering displays an enormous respect for the tradition of great fantasies that come before it, from Irving, Baum, and Nesbit, to Lewis, Tolkien, and Pullman, while confidently taking its place beside them.
“A ripping yarn.”
“Powered by Chabon’s ample storytelling skills and rich narrative voice, the novel incorporates baseball, Native American myths, and fantasy into a story that’s bound to appeal to young readers and their parents.”
“Only a grump would not give over to the wonder of Chabon’s otherworlds….The author’s gifts for metaphor and description hold the spiraling fantasy together, the humble giving human shape to the unreal. It’s clear he’s got a truer ear than J.K. Rowling.”