Monday, July 20, 2009

The Brooklyn Nine

Gratz, Alan. 2009. The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings. New York: Dial.

Although populated by real and invented characters, The Brooklyn Nine has only one main character - baseball. Beginning with the earliest games of baseball, as played by the fictional German immigrant, Felix Schneider in 1845, through the war years, the modern era, and ending in 2002, baseball is the seam that holds this Novel in Nine Innings together.

Part Roots, part Forest Gump, each chapter in Gratz's novel follows the game of baseball through subsequent generations of Felix Schneider's young descendants. Each generation has its own chapter or "inning."

Along the way, baseball adapts to whatever history throws over the plate - the Civil War, the Vaudeville era, the Roaring Twenties, the Negro Leagues, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, Sputnik, and the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Some pieces of baseball memorabilia pass through the generations or "innings", their significance fading over time.

The fictional characters in each chapter are, for the most part, wily and entertaining young baseball fans and players. "The Fourth Inning: The Way Things are Now, Coney Island 1908" features Walter Schneider, a batboy and feisty opponent of racism and anti-semitism, particularly when it's directed at him! "The Fifth Inning: The Numbers Game, Brooklyn, New York, 1926," features Frankie Snider, a quit-witted young girl, with a passion for the Brooklyn Robins and a soft spot for gamblers.

A few "innings" have a rather tenuous attachment to baseball, especially "The Seventh Inning: Duck and Cover, Brooklyn, New York, 1957," but overall, the book flows seamlessly. The Authors Notes for each inning, offer historical notes about events and real people featured in the book.

Because the main character of the Brooklyn Nine is our national pastime, character and plot development are experienced by the sport of baseball, rather than the individual "players" in the book. For this reason, it would make an excellent choice for some school assignments, but a poor choice for others.

The Brooklyn Nine is a fun and informative read, especially for fans of baseball or historical fiction. A winner.

The Brooklyn Nine: A Novel in Nine Innings was chosen as a Booklist Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth 2009 book.

Note: And now that I've duly tried to review this book, I will quote one of my favorite passages from the story, taken from an exchange between Frankie Snider and the real-life, John Kiernan, sportswriter for the New York Times in the 1920s.
"Then why don't you write about what really happens?"
Kiernan searched the high blue sky for an explanation. "It's like -
it's like reading a book to review it. Somehow having to break a book down into
its parts to critique it sucks all the joy out for me. I greatly prefer to
write my story in advance, and then sit back and enjoy the sum total of the
afternoon. Besides, the truth is subjective."

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