Out of Left Field

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Cover of Out Of Left Field
Ellen Klages, Out of Left Field

We read Passing Strange and wanted more Ellen Klages, so I picked up Wicked Wonders and Out of Left Field because they looked the most appealing out of the list that Kobo provided. I didn’t see soon enough that Out of Left Field was burdened with DRM or I wouldn’t have bought it from Kobo (dear publishers: DRM does not prevent piracy; it only prevents legitimate buyers owning the books they buy. Please stop). What I usually do when faced with DRM is to try to buy directly from the author — with one author I have an arrangement: they send me the book for free and I donate the full price I’d otherwise have paid to a worthy cause (last time I sent it to a trans acquaintance to buy stuff for her skin and hair). If that’s impossible, I tend to buy the dead-tree book (and possibly give it away) and see if I can find an illegal copy to read on my ereader, because I do want the author to have my money, but I also want to own, not rent, my files.

But enough digression. Wicked Wonders is a collection of short stories — I’m not much of a short-story reader, and this collection is a mixed bag like all collections, from “okayish” to “oh wow!” (Most other short-story collections I’ve read have a much less positive average, so there’s that.)

But Out of Left Field. It’s a middle-grade book, and I wish I had a ten-year-old with English reading skills around (my daughters would have qualified but they’re more than twice that age now, and my youngest godchild is 12 but doesn’t read English yet) so I could give them their own copy and get their opinion, because, well, oh wow!

I don’t care about baseball, but Katy Gordon made me care.

It was hard to put the book down. I had the ereader at my elbow while I was doing other things, picking it up again and again. Wow, this kid. I have been the kid with short hair and jeans and an ambiguous name (my birth name wasn’t actually ambiguous, but easily misunderstood as a common boy’s name) not allowed to play (street soccer, in my case) any more when outed as a girl. I wasn’t by far as driven as Casey/Katy, though.

In 1957 I was a fetus so I can’t know from experience, but the writing seems to be very true to its time. I’ve read plenty of books from the nineteen-fifties, and this almost read like one of those books (but with the sexism and racism less implicit as a fact of life, and more explicit as something that’s not right with the world but is hard to fight, as a plot point). Katy’s mother smokes all the time! Which is, to say the least, unusual for a children’s book published in 2018, even if it’s normal for a kid’s mother of that time. My mother did, even with fetus-me inside her.

Also unusual for a children’s book: adults aren’t all absent or evil or incompetent. Some are antagonists, like the Little League letter-writer, some are nice but powerless or misguided, like the coach; some are just plain okay or more than that, like several teachers and librarians and Katy’s Aunt Babs. But they’re there: the author acknowledges that the world is full of adults, sometimes they’re in the way, and sometimes you really need them.

I was all set for Katy’s mother to tell her to suck it up, but instead she encouraged her to take a day off from school so they could make a battle plan together. “Girls in this family don’t go down without a fight.” Darn sure– that Katy’s parents are divorced, we learn later, is because of a political conflict.

Another good thing: all the women baseball players that Katy researches are real people, and there are little capsule biographies of each one at the end of the book.

I’ll probably reread it Real Soon Now, but I got distracted by the Young Wizards.

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