The Fireball Kid: A Book Review

Novels about sports, specifically baseball, usually fall in one of two categories. Either they are written about a kid who is bullied at school and finds their way on the diamond, or a middle aged man who hasn’t played in decades, but all of the sudden has Major League talent. Fortunately this is not the case in Bill Palmer’s new book The Fireball Kid.

One of the reasons book is not like other baseball novels is that it intertwines other parts of life within the story that don’t necessarily relate to what is occurring on the baseball field. Set in the summer of 1964, the reader follows the main character, Danny, through a mid-year journey on the south side of Chicago.

The book will remind readers of the famed movie Sandlot as it has some of the same undertones, including a trip to an amusement park. Although this is the case, Palmer also addresses real life issues that were prevalent at the time. For most, being a successful baseball player as a 12-year-old would be enough, but Danny turned heads not only because of his play, but also because he was the only white kid playing on an all-African American baseball team during the height of the Civil Rights movement.

There are a decent amount of characters to try to keep straight and keep up with in the book, but they all seem to have their appropriate place within the story. One of these characters, Gloria (Danny’s summertime crush), helps Palmer keep the some of the story off of the diamond intriguing, and the character of Danny realistic. Often sports novels will present a kid who is obsessed with baseball, and nothing else, when anyone who has ever been a pre-teen knows that there is much more to life at that age than sports, like realizing girls don’t have cooties.

Each chapter starts with a quote that has an underlying connotation for what is about to unfold in the story. For example, at the beginning of Palmer’s chapter describing Danny’s tryout day with his friends Stats and Frankie, a quote by baseball legend Casey Stengel is presented to get the reader in the right mindset for what is about to unfold.

Palmer walks the fine line between writing a nostalgic story that comes off as an old fogey gushing about their past, and coming up with a way to illustrate essentially the same story while making the reader continually feel different emotions and buy into the overall message.

The main character Danny is not unlike any other boy his age, especially during this time period. However, the author does a good job illustrating what the difference of the time setting means on the characters. It is clear this story would be much different if it were written about a boy in the 1990s, even if they went through exactly the same events Danny does in the book. The undertone of this time period is certainly one of the main things that keep the reader intrigued. If the reader was alive during this time, they will no doubt be able to relate to what kind of perils Danny is faced with, if not, it is a lesson of what times were like back then.

Overall the work is a quick read and would be good to pick-up as a summer novel and read over a weekend or on vacation. The main negative about the book is that there are so many different story lines going on at once, that it is sometimes hard for the reader to realize where their focus should lie. Even so, it does break the mold of the typical baseball novel and leaves the reader with a rewarding feeling of nostalgia brought on by memories of what it would be like to be 12 again.

Overall Grade: 3.25/5

 

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