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John Danakas
Toronto, James Lorimer & Company, 1993.
153pp, paper, $8.95, ISBN 1-550-28-433-1. CIP

Subject Heading:

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11

Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson

Volume 22 Number 4
1994 September

At the beginning of  Curve Ball, eleven-year-old Tom Poulos is a reluctant passenger flying from Toronto to Winnipeg. As a working parent, his mother refuses to let him spend his summer home alone and she presents him with a choice between overnight camp or a month with her brother. Tom chooses the latter, but unhappily. Particularly frustrating to Tom is the interruption in the baseball season. An experienced catcher for the Jarvis Badgers, he had hopes for a victory this year.

Once he arrives in Winnipeg, he is faced with meeting his uncle for the first time, learning to help out at Uncle Nick's failing Olympic Diner, and joining the local baseball team, but in the twelve-year-old league. Tom's resentment changes to determination when he is openly harassed by the team's pitcher. Persevering in spite of Jeff, Tom gains the courage to tackle the elusive curve ball and to spark new interest in the diner with the Great Burger Taste-Off.

Author John Danakas brings coaching and writing experience to this first novel. He creates a likeable character in Tom, whose resentment and sullen attitude are as believable as his excitement and anxieties o ver baseball. Tom is matched with a strong female character in Kelly, the best player on the team and the friend who helps him carry out the Burger Taste-Off.

Danakas provides very detailed descriptions of each baseball game but glosses over plot elements such as the coincidental need of the new team for a catcher and even the unlikely chance that a player would be able to jump an age category.

While young readers will be drawn to this new "Sports Stories" series by a love of the game, they should not find that the analysis dominates the characters and plot. A personal quibble was with the term "batcatcher," for which I could not find a reference, even after considerable reading of baseball literature.

On the whole,  Curve Ball should be well received by sports fans; however, these readers would be better served by smoother writing and a more carefully plotted story.

Optional Purchase.

Jennifer Johnson works as a children's librarian in Ottawa, Ontario

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