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The Comeback Season

The Comeback Season

4.1 19
by Jennifer E. Smith

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Baseball brings them together—but will his secret keep them apart? Find out in this heartbreakingly beautiful novel from Jennifer E. Smith, author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.

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


Baseball brings them together—but will his secret keep them apart? Find out in this heartbreakingly beautiful novel from Jennifer E. Smith, author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.

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?

Editorial Reviews

Julie Just
Smith doesn't entirely avoid sentimentality, but Ryan's "comeback" with the help of a new kid in school…is convincingly put over the top.
—The New York Times
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to adult.

This is a story that touches difficult subjects the way we gingerly touch a sensitive tooth; and the difficult subjects are the biggest ones: death, grief, illness, loneliness, loss. Smith uses an analogy of loss and hope we can all understand--the Chicago Cubs. Ryan is 15 years old, still grieving for her father who died five years before. He was a good father who enjoyed his family, and he had a special relationship with Ryan as they shared their love for the Cubs. So, for Ryan, following the Cubs is a way to keep her father near her. Smith tells this story in the third person and in the present tense. Perhaps it is because of the lesson that eternity is in the present moment. Ryan is a lost, lonely 15 year old until she cuts school on opening day of the Cubs season and meets Nick, a new boy at school, who is also cutting. As their extraordinary friendship evolves over the summer, we learn more about Nick. We find out that Nick and his family moved to Chicago to be near the best oncology doctors because he is fighting bone cancer. Ryan’s experience losing her father means that she doesn’t know how she will be able to face Nick’s struggle and the possibility that he will die. Oddly enough, with Nick she is able to weep and cry and grieve for her father, to open herself up to feelings once more. There is nothing sentimental about this story; nothing trite. And the cover of teenage couple silhouetted with Wrigley Field in the background will attract readers. An unusually poignant story. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

Children's Literature - Keri Collins Lewis
Ryan Walsh is a girl accustomed to loss. From the day her father died five years ago, she has watched her friends slip away from her, her mother remarry, and her beloved Chicago Cubs fail to win time after time. On the anniversary of her father's death—which happens also to be opening day for the Cubs—Ryan skips school to be at Wrigley Field. Once there, she meets Nick, a new boy at her school, whose passion for the Cubs and depth of secrets mirrors her own. As Ryan slowly begins to hope, both for herself and for her team, she emerges from the grief that has dulled her senses for years. She gains a measure of self-confidence and falls in love but finds that sometimes, hope is not enough. In the face of unthinkable tragedy, she learns at last what her father tried to teach her, that life and baseball are a lot alike: it is not winning or losing, but having enough courage to step up to the plate and give it your best, no matter what life throws at you. Beautifully written in prose so word-perfect and fluid it feels like poetry, this debut novel seamlessly weaves themes of family dynamics, grief, survival, guilt, fear, and longing. Smith has created a real and empathetic heroine whose heartbreak is felt by the reader, while never allowing the plot to descend into the trite or maudlin. A great novel for anyone, this story has special potential for use with teens experiencing the loss of a loved one, those dealing with stepparents and new siblings, and those facing life-threatening illness. Reviewer: Keri Collins Lewis
VOYA - Erin Wyatt
Summertime in Chicago is a season of perpetual hope for fans of the loveable losers of baseball, the Cubs. Smith captures that mix of optimism followed by disappointment-at least for the past ninety-nine years-perfectly in her debut novel. Ryan is a die-hard Cubs fan, which also helps her feel connected to her father who unexpectedly died when she was ten. As a high school freshman, she is still reeling over that loss. Ryan uncharacteristically ditches school to go to opening day at Wrigley Field. While there, she runs into Nick, a new boy at her school. They begin a friendship that turns to romance and helps both of them get through tough times, including a battle with the returning cancer with which Nick must deal. This book is a must-read for Cubs fans, but those readers who are not (gasp!) will nevertheless find a really powerful story of love, loss, hope, and healing. The author ties the perpetual losing ways of the Cubs to valuable life lessons about the need to keep moving forward and dealing with disappointments in life. Subplots about the difficulty Ryan has navigating friendships at school and the way she deals with the changes in her family add richness to the story and depth to her character. It is an emotionally touching book with elements that will also appeal to readers who like sports fiction. Reviewer: Erin Wyatt
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up- Buried beneath the weight of a wholly untenable premise is a deeply moving, often beautifully rendered story of a girl who endures the loss of both her father and the boy she loves, and finds strength and hope as a result. High-school freshman Ryan Walsh still misses her dad terribly five years after his death in a boating accident. He was a sports reporter who instilled in her his love of the perennially disappointing Chicago Cubs. Ryan, who has grown away from her childhood friends, is lonely and miserable until she meets Nick, who shares her passion for the team. A recent transfer to her school, he is vague and evasive about the reason for the cast on his arm. It is eventually revealed that he has bone cancer. When Ryan suspects that he is seriously ill, she strikes a fateful bargain (with whom, it is never made clear) that the Cubs could continue to fail, as long as Nick is all right. As the team's fortunes improve and Nick's condition worsens, Ryan comes to believe that she is responsible. This central conceit of the novel-that a bright, sensible 15-year-old could believe that events are affected by this kind of irrational superstition-strains even the most willing suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, those readers who stay with the novel to the end will be rewarded (in the last third of the book particularly) with scenes of genuine emotional power and language of sometimes breathtaking beauty and clarity. While her novel is less than a total success, Smith is clearly a writer with extraordinary gifts, from whom great things should be expected.-Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School Library, VT

Kirkus Reviews
Hope springs eternal for one Chicago Cubs fan even as she struggles to come to terms with her father's death. Though ninth-grader Ryan Walsh's father died five years ago, she still clings to his memory and their shared passion for the biggest losers in baseball. Then she meets kind, confident Nick, also a Cubs lover, and the two fall into an easy friendship that revolves around Wrigley Field. But when Nick reluctantly reveals he is in remission for bone cancer, Ryan has to decide if she is willing to risk loving someone who, unlike her favorite team, may not have a "next year." Set in the summer of 2008-the start of the 100th season since the Cubs won a World Series-this moving debut isn't so much about baseball as it is an examination of the roles that faith, luck and fate play in the game of life. But even though Smith's clean, uncomplicated prose and gently told story are more Sarah Dessen than Chris Crutcher, both romantics and sports fans will find something here to like. (Fiction. 12-15)
From the Publisher
"A wonderfully written story about love, heartache, and loss that digs deep into the most important lesson sports have to offer us — hope. As Smith so eloquently tells us, it's not about winning or losing, it's about stepping up to the plate, over and over again. This story — impossible to put down — will stay with you like your biggest loss...and your greatest comeback." — Tim Green, author of Football Genius and Football Hero

"Jennifer E. Smith has taken the themes of young love, deep loss, and professional baseball — in the form of the hapless Cubs — and turned them into a terrific read that overflows with passion and insight. Lessons about the saving nature of hope pervade this story of memory and yearning. Here's one old sportswriter who calls The Comeback Season a leadoff homer by an All-Star rookie." -Rick Telander, senior sports columnist, Chicago Sun-Times

"In a deeply touching and profound debut, Jennifer E. Smith sensitively explores the parallels and intersections between the game of baseball and the game of life. Smith is a writer and a fan who understands the details and depth of the great American pastime and of the human heart as well." — Bob Krech, author of Rebound

"The Comeback Season is a warm and brave, if heartbreaking, story about first love. It will make you cry and laugh and cry again!" — Melissa de la Cruz, author of The Au Pairs and Blue Bloods

"The Comeback Season is one of those books that breaks your heart — and can't be put down. It is a beautifully written story about loss of innocence, the strength of the human spirit, and why there is nothing quite like being a Chicago Cubs fan." — John Feinstein, bestselling author of Last Shot, Vanishing Act, and Cover-up

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
1070L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

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

Meet 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.

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Comeback Season 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 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 life...love...death...strength...and 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.
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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!!