CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006
Batter up! Twelve-year-old Matthew Hill has just finished a terrific season of basketball, and now baseball season is about to begin with a grand slam. That is, of course, if Matt weren’t suddenly afraid of the ball. His high hopes for spring are further deflated when, on his yearly trip to Long Lake, he and his best friend Jake find themselves entangled with Jake’s two older cousins, Vance and Cody, who introduce them to marijuana. While Jake tries the drug, Matt, alone, makes a quick excuse and escapes to the cabin, but he cannot escape the aftermath: a wedge has been driven between him and his best friend. Baseball, of course, is no solace – after being benched, needing a pinch hitter, and having to spend Saturdays at batting practice with the team manager, Charlie, Matt’s world is firmly topsy-turvy.
The spring, however, does bring romance, and when the Spring Fling dance is announced, Matt realizes his feelings for another athlete, Andrea. His hopes for reconnecting with Jake rise when Jake asks Andrea’s best friend, Marcia, to the dance as well. But alas, Jake, once more, shows up at the dance with Cody and Vance. After a while, Jake and his cousins go off for a “hike,” leaving both Matt and Marcia behind. Jake also leaves his jacket, which Matt finds at the coat check and stuffs into his baseball bag.
It turns out Charlie’s batting help has made an impact – Matt begins to hit the ball, and even keeps the inning alive against Churchill. But just when things are getting better, they take a plunge: neighbourhood policeman, Officer Peters, and his drug-sniffing dog, Joker, find marijuana in Jake’s jacket which is still in Matt’s baseball bag. Matt doesn’t want to betray his friend, but he also doesn’t want to be the target of a false accusation. He confronts Jake, but Jake refuses to accept responsibility. Matt is relegated to drug counseling sessions on Sundays, and his squeaky clean record as good guy is sullied.
In the end, Jake, one of the Stingers’ best players, bats and pitches a dismal game just when they need his talent the most. It seems the drugs are catching up with him. Jake finally tells his parents the whole truth and lets Matt off the hook. For Matt, prospects for the summer are suddenly a lot sunnier: he has made a new friend in Charlie, and he and Andrea are growing even closer. Matt forgives Jake and moves forward with their friendship. Matthew Hill may not have been a top-notch hitter this season, but he certainly was a top-notch team player.
With High and Inside, Rudd has written a clean-cut and page-turning novel. He melds a clear passion for sports with likeable characters and presents conflicts with which many kids can likely relate. With the exception of Rudd’s occasionally removing readers from the forefront of Matt’s point of view, Matt’s voice is solid, truthful and engaging.
That said, it seems that Matt’s fear of the ball runs no deeper than it simply appears, and we never do learn what it is that Matt truly longs for, except to surmise that he wants life to go back to the way it was and to be able to enjoy a good ball season. Consequently Rudd leaves readers with lower emotional stakes and the general sense that Matt is constantly the victim of unfortunate circumstance rather than the force that drives the story forward out of desire.
Yet, perhaps one need not always look deep and desperately into the underpinnings of soul in order to find out why one is afraid of the ball. It may be that, once in a while, being afraid of the ball is simply just that. Thus, as a novel about the potential pitfalls of adolescence for those otherwise unsuspecting, Rudd writes of hope, perseverance and healthy choices. Life can be full of seemingly discordant and unpleasant surprises, but one can always find a way to make them experiences of growth and understanding. With High and Inside, then, readers can take a breath of relief from the dark mire that adolescence is normally perceived to be and can simply read about the truly well-adjusted who love a darn good ball-game.
Caitlin Berry is a graduate of Vermont College’s Master in Fine Arts in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She is also a guest reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and is finishing her first novel. She lives on Vancouver Island.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.