Friday, July 20, 2012

Play Ball by Nunzio Difilippis and Christina Weird, illustrated by Jackie Lewis

Dashiell isn't happy about her family's move to a new town. She misses her dad and blames her mom and her older sister Arica doesn't understand or care. But both Arica and Dashiell are excited about their new school - Arica is thrilled to finally be going to a coed public school and Dashiell is excited about the schools' championship baseball team, the Wildcats.

There's just one problem. At Phoenix High School, girls play softball and boys play baseball.

Despite doubts from her friends and family and discouragement from the team, coach, and school administration, Dashiell finds enough allies to give her a chance. It's not easy - she spends most of the season on the bench since the coach gives the starting shortstop position she should have had to another player. Her one supporter on the team, Ben (who I think is the captain?) starts dating her sister Arica, which leads to even more drama.

This is an upbeat, positive look at girls in sports - while Dashiell has a rough time initially, her ability eventually wins over the team, even the most negative guys, as well as the coach. Dashiell and the other characters aren't just cardboard cutouts for a story about civil rights though. They have other things going on in their lives - Dashiell and Arica have to learn to get along as sisters even though they're very different. Dashiell learns some hard truths about her dad and grows up enough to admit she's been wrong to her mom. Her teammate Ben, and Arica as his girlfriend, weather some tough spots in learning how to deal with relationships.

Jackie Lewis' black and white art is clean and attractive. It captures the movement and action of the sport as well as the emotion in the various characters' interaction. Even non-comic readers will be willing to pick this one up and will be attracted by the variety of characters and plot lines.

As always, Oni is optimistic in the matter of recommended ages (this is the publisher who suggests Courtney Crumrin for ages 7 and up). They've labeled this All Ages and while there's only a couple mild references to swearing (Dashiell swears at the principal, but her words are jumbled and her sister says "effin" leading Dashiell to respond "Seriously Arica, learn how to swear. It will make your point that much stronger.") this is a story about teens in high school, dating, growing up, learning how to navigate adult relationships and make decisions for themselves and isn't going to be of interest or appropriate for younger kids. I'd give it to middle school and older.

Verdict: A strong story, well-written and drawn characters, and an interesting, multi-layered plot will make this of interest to a wide variety of teens. Recommended.

ISBN: 9781934964798; Published April 2012 by Oni Press; Egalley provided by the publisher through Netgalley; Purchased for the library

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