A Home Team, #4
by Mike Lupica
Simon & Schuster Kids
Upper Middle Grade
ages 8 to 12
Cassie must learn that you can’t “fix” someone else after a girl with Aspergers joins her softball team in the fourth and final book of the Home Team series from New York Times bestselling author and sports-writing legend Mike Lupica.
Cassie Bennett is great at being in charge. She always knows what to do to lead her teams to victory, keep her many groups of friends together, or fix any problem that comes her way. So when Sarah Milligan, an autistic girl with unreal softball skills, joins Cassie’s team, Cassie’s sure she can help her fit in with the team.
But before long it’s obvious that being around so many people is really hard for Sarah, and the more Cassie tries to reach out and involve her, the more Sarah pushes her away, sometimes literally. It doesn’t help that Cassie’s teammates aren’t as interested in helping Sarah as they are in making sure they make it to the new softball All-Star Tournament that’ll be televised just like the Little League World Series.
Soon no one seems to even want Sarah on the team anymore besides Cassie, and the harder Cassie tries to bring everyone together, the worse things seem to get. Cassie Bennett never backs down from a challenge, but can she realize that maybe the challenge isn’t fixing a problem in someone else, but in herself? Or will her stubbornness lead her to lose more than just softball games?
Cassie is a sports ace and softball season, one of her favorites, is about to begin. Balancing all her friends, especially the girls, with her interests isn't always easy, especially when a new girl joins the team. Sarah is autistic and although she's an amazing player, the other girls aren't sure how to deal with her. Cassie determined to help Sarah mold in with the team. Her attempts end up causing a bigger cleft and driving even her own friends away.
This is the fourth book in the series but can be read as a stand-alone. I did not read the other books in the series.
Cassie is a fun power-girl with a great head on her shoulders. She's great at sports, very popular, and already knows that balancing all of this takes a lot of work. Her warm personality and determination make her easy to like and a girl to root for the whole way through. Her friends—the closet ones anyway—stand by her and work things out even when the going gets tough. It's an inspiration in this sense alone.
The sport aspect is well done. Most of the scenes take place in a softball setting, but it never comes across as over powering. The softball aspect flows naturally into the plot and has an atmosphere softball fans will quickly recognize and feel at home in. Even non-sport fan readers can fall into the situations without any trouble, since much of the plot has to do with the relationship between the kids.
The interactions between the characters is very natural and the reactions understandable. The author also does a fairly decent job at slipping in an autistic character and showing the difficulties she as well as those around her, might have. Having an autistic child myself and knowing many similar families, I tend to be more sensitive and critical when authors use these type of characters, since autism covers a much wider spectrum of behavior than most people realize. In literature, however, only certain behaviors and reactions tend to be emphasized, giving a perception of an autistic person which tends to be fairly narrow when compared to reality. It's a difficult area to tackle, and in this book, done fairly convincingly.
The message in this book is strong, and while it's a sports story, it's a serious one. I wouldn't recommend it to the younger range of middle graders by more toward ages 10 to 14. But it's definitely a joy to read, and the author does an amazing job at presenting a situation perfectly fitting to the age range in almost every way. I can only recommend it to sport fans and those who simply enjoy a good, middle grade contemporary read.
And here he is. . .
Mike Lupica is the author of multiple bestselling books for young readers, including the Home Team series, QB 1, Heat, Travel Team, Million-Dollar Throw, and The Underdogs. He has carved out a niche as the sporting world's finest storyteller. Mike lives in Connecticut with his wife and their four children. When not writing novels, he writes for Daily News (New York) and is an award-winning sports commentator. You can visit Mike Lupica at MikeLupicaBooks.com.