Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Strike three you're dead by Josh Berk

I hadn't expected to like this book - I have absolutely no interest in sports - but I picked it up off my backlog to read because I was looking for more middle grade mysteries (in expectation of the return of 80 5th graders next year, all clamoring for mysteries). To my surprise, I found it funny, engrossing, realistic, and just all-around fun.

Lenny and his two best friend, Mike and Other Mike, are looking forward to a leisurely summer and Lenny enters an "armchair announcer" contest for the Phillies, never expecting to win. But he does! Lenny is living the dream, meeting his heroes, getting ready to actually announce an inning...when a promising young baseball player drops dead. What really happened? Lenny and the Mikes, as well as their new friend Maria, are determined to find out.

There's plenty of sports information for the die-hard fan, but just as much mystery and humor for any other reader included as well. The characterization of the Lenny and his friends is spot-on hilarious, from Lenny's traumatic last baseball game to his more athletic friend Mike, and Other Mike's obsession with fantasy and computers. Maria is a great addition to the team with funny and awkward interactions between the kids as they try to figure out how to relate to this girl who's just as big a fan as them and is turning out to be nothing like they expected.

There's a great mystery, not too graphic but definitely not too little-kids-ish for the audience. There's awkward preteen boys interrogating librarians. There are mustaches. There's a tough girl who isn't ashamed of liking baseball. There's interesting things you can learn in books, like safecracking. And, of course, lots of baseball trivia.

Verdict: The sports mysteries I bought for teens have been gathering dust on the shelf, but this one will definitely be a popular choice for middle school readers who are interested in sports or mysteries. I am delighted to see it's going to be a series and the sequel, Say it ain't so! will be published next week.

ISBN: 9780375870088; Published 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House; Review copy provided by the publisher; Purchased for the library

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