The Comeback Season

The Comeback Season

by Jennifer E. Smith


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The last place Ryan Walsh should be this afternoon is on a train heading to Wrigley Field. She should be in class, enduring yet another miserable day of her first year of high school. But for once, Ryan isn't thinking about what she should be doing. She's not worried about her lack of friends, or her suffering math grade, or how it's been five whole years since the last time she was really and truly happy. Because she's finally returning to the place that her father loved, where the two of them spent so many afternoons cheering on their team. And on this — the fifth anniversary of his death — it feels like there's nowhere else in the world she should be.

Ryan is once again filled with hope as she makes her way to the game. Good luck is often hard to come by at a place like Wrigley Field, but it's on this day that she meets Nick, the new kid from her school, who seems to love the Cubs nearly as much as she does. But Nick carries with him a secret that makes Ryan wonder if anyone can ever really escape their past, or believe in the promise of those reassuring words: "Wait till next year." Is it too much for Ryan to hope that this year, this season, might be her comeback season?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416996064
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 02/23/2010
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Lexile: 1070L (what's this?)
Age Range: 13 - 17 Years

About the Author

Jennifer E. Smith is the author of Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between, The Geography of You and Me, This Is What Happy Looks Like, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, The Storm Makers, You Are Here, and The Comeback Season. She earned her master’s degree in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews, and her work has been translated into thirty languages.

Read an Excerpt

The Comeback Season

By Jennifer E. Smith

Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing

Copyright © 2010 Jennifer E. Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781416996064

Chapter One

OPENING DAY AT WRIGLEY FIELD ISN?T ALWAYS APRIL 8. It?s not like Christmas or the Fourth of July, with their dependable calendar slots, the reassurance of a fixed number. So that it should fall on April 8 of this year?the first of Ryan Walsh?s uneven stint in high school?seems reason enough for her to be on a southbound ?L? train at the exact moment she should be taking her seat in science class. The day is beautiful, blindingly bright and faintly breezy, and the Chicago skyline looms a startling shade of silver in the distance. Ryan clutches her backpack as the train lurches from side to side, her forehead pressed against the thick plastic window.

A man in a Ryne Sandberg jersey wafts a foam finger in her direction, and even as she scoots farther toward the window, Ryan?s heart beats fast with excitement. There are college kids drinking sweet-flavored vodka drinks from plastic bottles, old men with sweat-stained blue caps, a group of boys trading blue and red markers to finish up a cardboard sign. At each stop, as they collect more fans, as the noise level grows, as they wind their way along Lake Michigan toward the center of it all, she feels it: the fluttery hope, the tentative promise. It is game day in Chicago, the first true day of spring. There is, before them all, a whole new season.

Ryan is not typically reckless in this way. She is, in fact, feeling slightly nauseated at the thought of her impulsive departure after third period. Across the packed train car, she thinks she spots a boy from her math class, the shock of white from a cast on his arm peeking through at elbow level in the crowd. But at the next stop, when the doors open and a new surge of people presses their way inside, he?s suddenly gone, and Ryan decides she?s only looking for a reason to feel guilty and to think of school.

?Next stop, Addison,? the conductor calls out, and the train erupts in wild cheering. Ryan tugs at the drawstrings of her hooded sweatshirt and smiles to herself.

This, after all, is where she feels closest to him. Not when she sits at what had once been his seat at the dinner table. Not when her mom unwittingly sings their song under her breath while she does the dishes. Not when she looks at her younger sister, whose eyes are his: gray-blue and swimming.

No, right here, with the stadium fast approaching and all the possibilities of these nine long innings laid bare: this is where it?s easiest to imagine her father still beside her.

She?d been just ten when he was killed in a rafting accident while on a trip to Colorado. Soon after, Mom sold their season tickets?two seats on the third base line, just eight rows back?to help save money while she looked for a job. Emily had always been too young anyway, and Mom was never interested much beyond the novelty of the festival-like atmosphere of Wrigley Field.

But the ivy-covered back wall is the background to most of Ryan?s memories of him. She can see his face most clearly when she thinks of him at the ballpark. It was here he?d taught her to keep score when she was only six, patiently helping her fill in the tiny diamond grids across her playbook, and it was here?however unknowingly?she?d begun to prepare herself for his absence. Where better to learn of heartbreak and loss than Wrigley Field? What better place to harden your heart?

At the games, he?d throw an arm across the back of her seat and lean in. ?If the Cubs win,? he?d say, ?I?ll give up chocolate for a whole week.?

?It has to be something more important than that,? Ryan would say accusingly, as if he didn?t care enough to negotiate with something better than candy.

?Not for this game,? he?d protest. ?It?s not even our division.?

She?d pull her blue cap down low and frown until he reconsidered.

?Okay, fine,? he?d say with a grin. ?If the Cubs win, I?ll eat only vegetables for the rest of the week.?

?How about if they win, you have to give me five piggybacks a day??

?Five a day?? he?d say, laughing. ?You drive a hard bargain.?

?It?s for the good of the team,? she?d insist.

It was a dangerous bargaining tool, this team of theirs. There was always the chance they?d be left with nothing.

Since her dad died, Ryan has only been to three games. The first two with her mom and sister soon after the accident, where they got lost amid the thick crowds and the too-cheerful organ music. Ryan had barely been able to watch the game, instead working to split open peanut shells the way he?d taught her, but they felt dry and dusty in her mouth. Emily cried when someone in the row behind them spilled beer at their feet, and Mom held her close, looking out over the top of her head with a dazed expression, even when everyone else rose for the national anthem. They?d left at the top of the fourth inning, and on their second try a few games later, made it only to the bottom of the fifth. It was soon after that when Mom sold the tickets.

A year later, sitting with a friend and her parents at the third game, Ryan realized she?d forgotten how to keep score the way her dad taught her. She sat with her pencil poised over the scorecard and blinked back tears.

That was five years ago. She hasn?t been back since.

But today is different. Today is April 8.

When the train slows to a halt, the passengers shift restlessly until the doors open. Over their shoulders, Ryan can see the huge wall of the stadium rising up against a cloudless sky, and she draws in a breath. The air smells of that peculiar combination of hot dogs and springtime, leather mitts and freshly cut grass, and all of it blends into one scent, one thought, one thing: Dad.

?Opening Day programs,? a man in red calls out, waving the glossy booklets high in the air. ?Cubs programs here!?

Ryan steps off the platform, swept toward the stadium along with the rest of the crowd, and just briefly, she closes her eyes. April 8 may not always be Opening Day, but it is always?without fail and without end?the anniversary of the day her father died. And this, she thinks, peering up at the pennants waving lazily in the spring breeze, is reason enough.

Ryan had woken this morning with a dull sense of loss, and when she rolled over to glance at her clock, she remembered and burrowed deeper beneath the covers. Five years ago on this day, she?d been pulled from her fourth-grade classroom and made to sit in the nurse?s office until her mom arrived, red-eyed and stunned with her three-year-old sister in tow, to tell her what she knew?that in the chaos of the Colorado River, on the trip her dad had been planning with his college buddies for years, the raft had overturned. Of the group, it had been her father who was tossed in the worst possible direction, where the water was quicker, the river bottom rockier. It was the school nurse who leaned in to clarify the message: ?He?s gone, honey,? she said, and Ryan began to cry.

Sometimes, it seems she hasn?t stopped crying since.

This morning, when she came downstairs for breakfast, Emily was already sitting at the table singing to herself, her legs swinging from the chair as she picked at a blueberry muffin. Her younger sister loves dolls and horses, stickers and puppies, and is so far from what Ryan had been at eight?or ever?that she often has trouble believing they could have been raised in the same family.

Though in a way, they haven?t been.

Emily had been too young to remember Dad, and for that, Ryan can?t fault her. But her sister?s allegiance to Kevin makes Ryan feel like the last survivor of a long-lost era. Their stepfather is a nice enough lawyer who Mom met at the driving range when she decided to take golf lessons a couple years ago. At the real estate agency where she?d started working after Dad died, golf was apparently more than just a hobby. It was the common language. ?It?s a sport that?s actually useful,? Mom said, looking pointedly at Ryan. ?It?s good for business.?

Dad had been a sportswriter, and even he didn?t consider golf a real sport.

Kevin?wearer of ties, believer in rules, hater of baseball?had joined the family shortly afterward, and it is with him that Emily has grown up. Because of this, it?s impossible to blame her for not understanding that you don?t flip the television channel when the Cubs are on.

This morning, Ryan had looked on wearily from across the kitchen table as Emily folded and refolded a muffin wrapper like a study in origami. Twice, she opened her mouth to say something?to offer some small reminder of the day?but her sister was bright-eyed and ready for school, waiting for Kevin to drive her, waiting for Mom to kiss them good-bye, and Ryan didn?t have the heart to draw her into this awful anniversary, no matter how much she wished for someone to share in her sorrow. When Mom came downstairs, she would?as she did each year on this day?hug Ryan just a little bit tighter, linger just a moment longer when she kissed her forehead, smooth back the tangles of hair from her face. They would exchange watery smiles, and without having to say anything, without making any sort of fuss, they would sit down to a breakfast of slightly burned bacon and scrambled eggs?Dad?s favorite. Anything more to commemorate the day would be too difficult; anything less, heartless.

But today, Mom came down holding Kevin?s hand, the two of them hiding smiles and practically giggling. They stood before the table, Kevin adjusting his tie, Mom with a hand on the back of Emily?s chair.

?What?s going on?? Ryan asked, frowning. She sat Indian style on the kitchen chair, her arms tucked up inside her sweatshirt. Mom stooped down to place a hand on top of Emily?s, and behind her, Kevin shifted from one foot to the other, bobbing his head of thinning hair and grinning stupidly.

?We only just found out for sure,? she said. ?I?m pregnant.?

Mom looked to them both, smiling hesitantly, until Emily squealed and hopped up from her chair, clapping her hands, and Mom?s smile broadened. She raised her eyes over Ryan?s shoulder to Kevin, and with that look?the flecks of light in her eyes, the faintest hint of joy?Ryan?s heart dropped. Of all days, she thought, as she pushed back from the table and pounded up the stairs to her room.

Later, when she heard the knock, Ryan simply tucked her face into her pillow and grunted. She looked up when the door creaked open, and Mom poked her head in.

?Mind if I join you??

Ryan said nothing, but curled into a ball to make room at the foot of the bed.

?I didn?t forget,? Mom said, resting a hand on Ryan?s ankle. She tilted her head thoughtfully. ?I think, in a way, he?d be happy about it, actually. A new beginning on a day like today. It?s just the kind of thing he?d find meaning in if he were here.?

?If he were here,? Ryan said, staring fiercely out the window, ?this wouldn?t have happened.?

They sat quietly on the bed together, the sounds from the cars outside rising up through the half-open window. Ryan waited for Mom to say something more?to suggest they go downstairs for bacon and eggs, or to tell her she?ll never love anyone more than Dad, not Kevin and not even this new baby?but they both remained silent.

Finally, Ryan eyed her stomach. ?When?s it due??

?October,? Mom said, placing a hand on her belly, obviously pleased by the question. Ryan shrugged, watching the Cubs flag on her closet door flutter in the breeze from the window. It wasn?t as if she?d have anything else to do in October.

? 2008 Jennifer E. Smith


Excerpted from The Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer E. Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Comeback Season 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Ryan Walsh is a girl who loves the Chicago Cubs. It's not just about baseball to her, though. It's more about her dad, who passed away when she was ten years old, who sparked her love for the team. She's a freshmen in high school now, and the year didn't turn out quite how she wanted it to, with her drifting further apart from her grade school friends, Kate and

Everything changes for Ryan on Opening Day, when she goes to Wrigley Field to try and scalp a ticket. Though she ends up having to enjoy the game outside of the stadium, it's all worth it, for that day is when she really meets the new kid at school, Nick.

From then on, they have a relationship that builds quickly based on things like baseball and knowing when to just be silent together. Things are finally starting to look up for Ryan, when it all starts to get out of her control again. The feelings of helplessness. The fear. In the end, Ryan will have a hard lesson to learn. How to move forward, without forgetting the past.

THE COMEBACK SEASON was an amazing story about getting through the tough times in life to make it to the other side. The friendship between Ryan and Nick is warming and hilarious at the same time, reflecting the lives of friends all over the world. Jennifer E. Smith mixes baseball in a beautiful way that will keep you flipping the pages and ready to tread through the journey alongside Ryan. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be happy, you'll be mad. But most of all, you'll love this book, whether a fan of sports or not, because more then that, it's simply a story of learning how to live and thrive during the good and bad times.
DemiMarie More than 1 year ago
This is a very good book. Its not all about baseball and no all about love. It's a teenage girl's life and its very interesting. When I started reading it, I couldn't see myself getting into the book but after I got done with first couple chapters, I couldn't stop reading it. Jennifer E Smith is a wonderful author. I havent read much of her books but I would love to in the future. I recommed this book, and hope hey enjoy is as much as I did.
daniellecarolyn96 More than 1 year ago
i love this book. one day i went to the book store with my grandmother and there was a lot of books on sale. this was one of the books. i started the book one night when it was storming and i did not have power. once i start reading it i have to force my self to put it down.
calexis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So here's the honest truth, perhaps to the disappoint of baseball-fan Jennifer Smith, I don't watch baseball. At all. Honestly, I don't watch sports at all. Besides the Olympics. But that's different. Despite this fact though, I loved the novel. I loved the characters, and practically fell in love with Nick myself. As for Ryan, well, though I'm not a baseball fan like her, or have suffered the loss of my father, I found myself relating to her in other ways. Those feelings when friends turn their back on you. Those feelings of feeling like you don't belong. Those conflicted feelings regarding doubts and belief. The story and plot was emotional and moving. It was an amazing and inspirational novel about believing despite everything that might contradict you. Anyways, the novel was amazing itself and I loved reading the mark up by the author herself. It was interesting to know what little parts of the story was taken from her own life. Thank you so much for sharing all that.
ewyatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ryan's dad died suddenly when she was in elementary school. His loss has left her reeling for years. One of the things her dad left her with is a love for the Cubs. When Ryan ditches school to attend opening day, she runs in to Nick, a new boy at school, at Wrigley Field. They begin a friendship that turns to romance which helps both of them get through some tough times. Above all, they keep hoping that maybe this will be the Cubs' year.
abbylibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ryan's dad died five years ago and she's been a little lost since then. Now she's a freshman in high school and her best friends have ditched her, trying for a spot in the popular clique instead. When her mom and stepdad announce that they're going to have a baby, Ryan feels like everything's changing... and not in a good way. She ditches school to go to Wrigley Field on the Cubs' opening day and that's where she meets Nick, a boy who will help her find herself again. But Nick's got a secret that will change everything once again. This is a touching story about a girl dealing with grief and putting her life back together. This would be a great read for baseball fans. Ryan and her dad were huge Cubs fans and Ms. Smith includes lots of details about going to the games and about the Cubs. The Cubs are what bring Ryan and Nick together and they're the biggest thing they have in common. Sweet and sad, this is a story that will stick with me.
marian50 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great story. Very subtle and understated, but yet packs a lot of emotion into a rather short novel. I read it all in one sitting. One of the cleanest YA novels I've read in a long time. Hope to read more from this author as she continues to write.
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mrswink More than 1 year ago
It was funny, happy, sad, and all qualities a good book should have! I wish there was more to the end, or a sequel! I recommend to any teen looking for a good read
daddysgirl0 More than 1 year ago
I would recommend this to anyone in their teenage years. I loved this book. I cant wait to read more of Jennifer Smith's books!
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80132 More than 1 year ago
If tragedy for the sake of tragedy is your thing, this is your book! Personally, I feel jerked around by this type of author. It's too formulaic for my taste: Something bad happens, something good happens, something worse happens.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is actually really outstanding, despite it's bittersweet ending. I think the author did a good job putting it in present tense third person and the writing is something to appreciate. It has a good combination of love, relationships, everyday struggles, and baseball. This book has become one of my favorite books. Some people might think places were slow, as I have read some places, but you have to understand writing and how hard it is to get a book like this and perfecting it. Writing in present tense is not an easy thing, and it's something a person who understands writing appreciates. Never the less, it's definitely worth reading and people who have struggled through death and the hardships of having friends, it's a book that you would definitely appreciate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
im a person who likes happy endings. if you are to don't read this book. some parts were so boring because there was too much detail. and if you dont like baseball dont read it. and it was really confusing. i mean i think i know how the book ended, but still not positive.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this i must say was cute but to be honest it was kinda slow. like i did read it. but i kept skipping paragraphs at times. but then there would be some parts were i would read it and love it. but at the ending i have to say i did cry. i do love the ending soo maybe if she took some things out of the story it would be better. but it was ok but like i said it had a good ending.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone loves a happy ending...right? Okay, maybe yes, but The Comeback Season is twisted with a friendship of love until death takes over half of it. It's a heartbreaking story, but it's got something to teach. Not every ending is happy. It's a small comeback for reality which people seem to ignore these days. This book was written well and with problems of everyday high schoolers, social groups, and relationships along with things that could be very real with a twist of baseball, this book is one of the best books I'll ever read. A personal number one favorite.
Livybug25 More than 1 year ago
One of the best books ever!! I couldn't put the book down it had me hooked from the first page!! I definitely recommend this book to others!!