________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 6 . . . . October 9, 2009


Swing for the Fences.

Gilli Braunstein.
Winnipeg, MB: G. Braunstein, 2008.
122 pp., hardcover, $25.00.
ISBN 978-0-9810873-0-6.

Grades 8-10 / Ages 13-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

* /4


Tamir, Ozzi, the girls and I got in the car and Rachel drove us to the park. The guys and I were seated in the back of Rachel's car and I was seated behind the driver's seat. I kept peaking [sic] at the driver's rear view mirror so I could see Rachel. The mirror was positioned perfectly so I could see her eyes. They say when you find true love, time stops. The entire car ride seemed as if time had come to a stand still [sic] and the only thing that continued to move was my heart. I don't remember what happened during that car ride or how long it was, all I remember was that we had arrived at the park.


What causes us to fall in love and know, absolutely, that we have found the right life partner? Gilli Braunstein is in his mid-teens when, as part of Team Winnipeg, he first travels to Montreal to play basketball in the Maccabi Games. At a dinner planned by his host family, he meets Rachel, and for Gilli it is love at first sight. Back home in Winnipeg, he and Rachel manage to stay in touch thanks to the computer, but a long-distance romance isn't enough for Gilli. He eventually drives the distance to Montreal to surprise Rachel with a visit and find out for sure if, as he believes, she is truly the love of his life.

     The baseball analogy in the novel's title sums up Gill's philosophy of life: you have to ‘swing for the fences.' In other words, you must go after dreams whole-heartedly and not let anything dissuade you from pursuing your goals. Life should be tackled with enthusiasm and perseverance. Gilli certainly tries to live by this credo and does everything he can to win Rachel's heart, including flowers, thoughtful gifts and personal visits.

     The novel is narrated in the first person so readers see this effort at romance entirely from Gilli's point of view, rather like reading a somewhat tedious and clichéd diary. Unfortunately, the novel falls flat despite the promising theme. Braunstein adds a great many unnecessary details to the story. For instance, as he drives to Montreal, we learn the names of many of the cities he passes through and, in some cases, their population figures, their official city motto or how different traffic in Ottawa is from traffic in Winnipeg, and what Gilli eats for various meals. Where readers need the details is in the descriptions of the main characters of the novel, and here we are given just bare bones. Gilli meets and dates many girls during the book, but all seem to be cardboard. By the end of the novel, it is hard to remember which is which. Even Rachel, Gilli's dream girl, is something of a stick figure, not filled in; there is no real conversation between them anywhere in the book. Aside from her dark hair and "enchanting eyes," what is Rachel really like? What personality characteristics does she have that could persuade someone to spend hours driving to see her? We are never told.

     Braunstein's plot doesn't build excitement or anticipation. The characters aren't fully formed with the individual qualities and quirks that would make them memorable. The setting is uneven, with Gilli's visits to Montreal reading more like a travel guide than a novel. He also takes readers on side trips to Toronto, Minneapolis, New York City and Indianapolis, but these don't advance the plot and provide no further insights into the protagonist.

     Swing for the Fences is a first novel, and that is evident as one reads. The writing needs tighter editing; nothing is more distracting than grammar and spelling errors in a finished novel. The plot needs far more energy and far less philosophy. Both the settings and characters need to be brought alive so readers can see and hear them as the novel progresses. As Gilli so often reminds his readers in the novel, life is a series of learning experiences, and hopefully Braunstein will use this first effort as a stepping stone to better young adult literature in the future.

Not recommended.

Ann Ketcheson is a retired teacher-librarian and a teacher of high school English and French. She lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has turned her love of travel into a second career as a travel consultant.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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