Pete Friedman and his best friend, AJ, are the stars of their middle-school baseball team. They're hoping to make the JV team when they start high school, and as there's a high school coach scoping them out at their last game of the summer season, it seems like a done deal... until Pete's elbow gives out.
Post-surgery, his doctor tells him that he'll never play again. So his freshman year starts on a bad note that is compounded by two secrets:
- First, he finds that he can't pop AJ's bubble of cheerful optimism about their future, so he keeps the severity of his injury under wraps,
- and second, his beloved grandfather—his favorite person in the world and the man who's taught him everything he knows about anything important—has started not just forgetting things, but forgetting basic things, and when Pete confronts his Grampa about it, he's asked to keep it a secret.
But life is not all bad. See, there's this girl in his photography class...
Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip is a solid contemporary that deals with two big issues—Alzheimer's and a life-changing injury—without ever being Issue-y. The issues complement each other nicely, too, as both Pete and his Grampa are struggling with losing independence and to some degree, agency: Pete's body is no longer capable of doing what he wants it to do, and Grampa's dealing with the same issue, but it's his mind that's refusing to cooperate. It doesn't offer any easy answers in either situation—Grampa's arc was particularly difficult for me emotionally—but it does provide some amount of hope in that even-through-big-hard-sadness-life-shifts-and-changes-and-goes-on sort of way. Relatedly, there's a short bit about drinking, and while Pete suffers the consequences of his actions—in the form of a hideous hangover and an angry girlfriend—Sonnenblick never turns the situation into a Teaching Moment.
Pete is a likable narrator with a compelling voice, and it was nice to read a book with no real antagonists. It would have been easy for Sonnenblick to go the cliched I-quit-sports-and-found-out-my-old-friends-were-d-bags route, but AJ is a good (occasionally hilarious) friend throughout, and Pete's romance doesn't cause any real drama, either.
The upperclassmen tease him a bit—he and his lady-friend end up in an Advanced Photography class—but in an affectionate way. The dialogue is funny, with some nice quirky details—his photography teacher speaks with a broad New York accent, and the older students usually refer to him as the furr-reshmannnnnn—but still feels realistic in that it doesn't feel over-the-top or overly stylized.
He raised one eyebrow. It's amazing how many people do that to me.
So that made me laugh.
Not one that inspires gushing, but totally solid, no complaints.
Book source: ILLed through my library. This book was read for the 2012 Cybils season.