Monday, January 19, 2009

Keeping Score

Park, Linda Sue. 2008. Keeping Score. New York: Clarion.

It's the summer of 1951 and Margaret Olivia Fortini is nine, going on ten. She is the daughter of an Italian father and an Irish mother (one day pasta, one day potatoes), a practicing Catholic, and like most Brooklynites, a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, better known as " 'Dem Bums." The Dodgers are flirting with a chance at the World Series and the United States is entering into the long-standing Korean conflict. Maggie spends much of her time at the firehouse, where her Dad does all the hiring. She loves nothing better than listening to the games on the radio with the guys, that is, until the new guy, Jim, teaches her how to score the games.

"There was something else about keeping score - and Maggie loved this most of all. Like every other Dodger fan she knew, she felt almost like part of the team, like she herself was one of the Bums. It was as if cheering for them, supporting them, listening to the games, talking about them, somehow helped them play better.

Maggie knew that this didn't really make any sense. It wasn't like Jackie and Campy and Pee Wee knew that her radio was turned on, or played worse if it wasn't. But there were times when it felt as though the strength of her wishes, combined with those of thousands of other fans all over Brooklyn, pulled the player or the bat or the ball in the right direction - for a stolen base or a hit or a strikeout, exactly when it was needed most."

When Jim is called up to serve in Korea, Maggie relies on what she knows best - prayers and baseball. But suppose just wanting something, praying for something is not enough? Suppose none of it matters?

Linda Sue Park explores what most children (and adults) eventually come face-to-face with - doubt. Will it matter if you don't wear your lucky shirt? Does praying help if your heart is not in it? Does receiving a benefit from a selfless act make it selfish? The Korean War, post-traumatic stress disorder, faith, family, and friendship - Keeping Score looks at all of these topics through the lens of a true baseball fan - and that is what makes the book work. Baseball is an optimist's sport. There's always next year. Hope springs eternal. Keeping Score never falls into despair. Maggie's loving family and steadfast friend, Treecie, keep her hopes alive.

Park's love of baseball is apparent in Keeping Score. Her team spirit is authentic; the play-by-plays flow easily. She writes, as she says, from the pain of growing up a Cubs fan. What can be more painful than that? Today, she's a Mets fan. As a Phillies fan, I can't say that I've felt her pain these last few years, in fact I've probably enjoyed it! ;-)

But I'm sure she's thinking... just wait 'til spring!

This is a great book that should appeal to girls and boys alike and especially baseball fans!

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