Monday, October 06, 2008

Book Review: Beanball by Gene Fehler

Luke Wallace is a special kid. As a star football, basketball, and baseball player he has a bright future ahead of him. Everyone knows he will go on to be a superstar. The only question is which sport will be lucky enough to have him. Baseball is his sport, the one he loves more than any other.

But things change dramatically in a split second. During a pivotal late-season matchup with their archrival Compton, the Oak Grove High School centerfielder's life is turned upside down.
It's every batter's worst nightmare. A fastball to the head that comes in so quickly Luke doesn't have time to react. At first no one is sure whether he's even alive. Ultimately, he will live but his life is changed is forever. So are the lives of many other folks especially those who saw the gruesome event. This one moment has a lasting impact on an entire community.

Poet Gene Fehler's first young adult novel Beanball tells the story of Luke Wallace and the lasting impact that this beaning will have on his promising athletic career. Through use of verse he tells the story from the standpoint of 28 different characters. What we discover is that this event has a far bigger impact than just what happens to Luke but many others including some who weren't even there are dramatically impacted by what happens.

While it may seem gimmicky to use poetry to tell a story such as this, Mr. Fehler manages to make it work. The story is in itself compelling. He does a tremendous job of putting us right in the ballpark as Luke Wallace comes to bat. We can almost hear the sickening sound of the baseball hitting his head. We can see him in our mind's eye crumpling to the ground. We can also relate to the emotional turmoil that Luke's friends go through as they watch him struggle through his recovery.

There are two minor flaws, however, that do detract from the story. First, the sheer number of characters is a little confusing to the reader. A few of them only make cameo appearances in the narrative while a number of them are far more important to the overall story. Trying to juggle all of the characters combined with adjusting to Mr. Fehler's writing style can be a little overwhelming.

Second, younger readers may be put off by the use of profanity by the Compton coach. While it may have been consistent with his character it seemed unnecessary and off-putting. Mr. Fehler might have been better served to remember who his target audience is with this book and adjust the dialogue accordingly.

In spite of these minor flaws, I still found it to be an entertaining book. I thought Mr. Fehler did an especially good job of capturing the thoughts and emotions of the characters and particularly of Luke Wallace. It was easy to see how Luke could have said and thought some of the things he did based on what he had experienced.

Borrowing a little baseball parlance, I would say Beanball is a solid double and possibly a triple but not quite good enough to be a home run. Still, it's a solid effort and an engaging read.

This article originally appeared at Blogcritics.

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