Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Review: Soar by Joan Bauer (2016)

Jeremiah, whose health is fragile because of a heart transplant, loves baseball but is not physically able to play. When he and his adoptive father, Walt, move to Hillcrest, Ohio for Walt’s job (which involves programming robots), Jeremiah finds that the town is struggling to maintain a baseball team after the death of a teen player and the discovery of a steroids scandal. Never one to give up hope, Jeremiah decides to bring baseball back to Hillcrest by starting up a new middle school team and stepping up to be its coach.

It is so hard to find a book with a truly happy main character, but Jeremiah is one such rare figure. Though he has his share of problems (in addition to the heart transplant, he was also abandoned as a baby), he has an indomitable spirit, and he uses his positivity to reach out and encourage others. Somehow, though, unlike other books that try to be inspirational, this one never feels cheesy. Jeremiah’s voice is strong, his personality is fun and quirky, and because of his unusual experiences, he is wise beyond his years in a way which is charming, rather than annoying.

The supporting characters, too, are authentic and lovable. Jeremiah and Walt have a warm, comfortable relationship, without a hint of angst or dysfunction. They tease each other in gentle ways, and occasionally Jeremah makes comments like this, which hint at the type of bond they have:

Walt said when I was little and couldn’t sleep, he’d sing me the Michigan fight song. He’s such a bad singer, I think I went to sleep to protect myself (p. 100).

The kids who join the team, and Jeremiah’s neighbor, El Grande, who is a former baseball player, are also fully realized individuals. The kids on the team each have their quirks and flaws and El Grande fulfills the role of mentor and legend very well. (At one point, after chatting with El Grande, Jeremiah even notes that “[t]here should be special movie music when El Grande walks back across the street to his house” (p.152).)

Author Joan Bauer also makes great use of the eagle as a metaphor in this story. Jeremiah’s birth mother leaves him with a stuffed eagle, which he calls Baby. Jeremiah spends a lot of time watching eagles on the Nature Conservancy’s Eagle Cam, and they provide him with inspiration. Finally, Jeremiah gives his baseball team the name of the Eagles, due to his belief that they can learn to soar.

This is one of the best baseball novels out there, and though Joan Bauer has previously mainly targeted a female audience, this book really will have universal appeal. Recommend Soar to readers who like Fred Bowen’s sports stories and/or those who have loved The Toilet Paper Tigers, About the B’nai Bagels, and Plunked. 

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