CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006
Stealing Home has a decidedly simple style, but Schwartz, long-time acclaimed Canadian author, tackles serious and difficult subjects with vigour and follows difficult moments with lighthearted and gentle humour. With lively, dynamic and sometimes surprising characterization, Joey has a fragile and difficult relationship with his grandfather, Zedye, a budding friendship with his cousin Roberta (Bobbie), and an immediate closeness with his Aunt Frieda, who thankfully always seems to be on his side. All his life, Joey has been considered too white; his nickname in New York was “whitebread.” He hoped things would change with his move to Brooklyn, but his first encounter with Bobbie's friends leaves him angered and fighting after being called a “nigger.” Schwartz is brave to enter this territory as racial issues and language appropriation are just as hot-button issues as they were in 1947. Joey's mixed ethnicity allows the reader to see through his eyes the difficulties Joey faces during his identity struggle and how he comes to terms with being different from everyone around him.
Baseball is a most important narrative device in Stealing Home; Joey's (initially begrudging) acceptance of the Dodgers represents the changes he explores within himself, and, more specifically, his ability to embrace being black. Jackie Robinson represents Joey's aspirations for a successful life where race will not matter as much as ability and passion, and Joey admires Jackie Robinson's dignity and grace, regardless of what people say or do to him as a result of his being black. Along with the exploration of his “negro” identity, Joey explores his Jewish heritage day by day, all along hoping to win approval from his grandfather, Zeyde, who appears to resent Joey as he resented his now deceased daughter.
The theme of bullying, so often rooted in discussion surrounding racism, appears in Stealing Home, but only three disappointing solutions appear in the storyline: fight alone, fight as a group, and, finally, have someone speak up for you. Joey is constantly in scraps with boys who call him names and taunt him. When he moves to Brooklyn, his cousin and the other friends he slowly amasses begin to fight for him as well. But Joey only truly feels like he is making headway in breaking down the barriers when his aunt raises her voice in the store and tells off the “old yenta,” Mrs. Yanofsky, for calling Joey a schvartze and talking down about Joey's mother, Rebecca. Although Joey tries on his own to tell people off for talking about him and his family like that, the result is never positive; he is always punished in some way by his grandfather, or he ends up in a physical fight. To see Joey learn how to use his words in a powerful way rather than fighting or watching someone stand up for him might have empowered his character a little more.
Regardless, what Schwartz has created is an easy-reading novel that tackles big issues in a sensitive, genuine manner. She handles the colloquialisms of the day with ease and makes the story so visual that it feels at times as though it is being watched rather than read. Stealing Home will no doubt spark important, and necessary, discussions in any elementary classroom.
Sandi Harrison is currently completing her degree in the Master of Arts in Children's Literature Program at the University of British Columbia.
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