Soar by Joan Bauer. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016. 255 pages.
What It Is: Realistic middle grades fiction
What It’s About: Jeremiah, abandoned as a baby, was adopted by Walt, a guy who works on robots! Jeremiah and Walt both love baseball, living and breathing it. However, Jeremiah’s young heart has already failed him, and a transplant–which has been successful–keeps him from actually playing baseball. Walt takes a temporary job in the town of Hillcrest, a baseball-loving town if there ever was one, and both Jeremiah and Walt have high hopes of joining in the love. But something has happened to quell the town’s love of the sport, and Jeremiah’s positive outlook on life and can-do attitude are hard at work to bring the town back to its first love.
What Works: Baseball! Sports books are always welcome, especially when the protagonist hardly mentions reading or school. The fact that Jeremiah wants to coach, and that he does coach, and that he tries to include all manner of players will reassure readers who might also love the sport but not be able to play well, or even at all. The realism surrounding Jeremiah’s heart issues is well done: the number of doctors and hospital visits that feature in his life, his desire to not make a big deal about it and just be a normal kid, and the reality of a life threatening condition that he can’t escape or ever forget. Kids who struggle with similar issues will resonate with Jeremiah; kids who don’t struggle with health issues will benefit from an inside peek at someone who does! Additionally, the town is struggling with the death of a favorite young player, a steroids/coaching scandal, and having to pull together as a town in the midst of this. The steroids use is a big deal in sports, and this novel tackles it helpfully. And the ending is nicely done overall: hopeful but without every single thing wrapped up.
What Doesn’t Work: I’ve enjoyed Bauer’s novels in the past, but this one wasn’t my favorite. It’s longer than necessary and may lose some kids in the process. Jeremiah’s positive outlook is a good feature, but it feels overdone in parts. This feels more like a novel that teachers and librarians will love and push, but not one kids themselves will eagerly push on their friends.
What I Think/Recommend: Give it a try–put it on your library shelves or check it out from your library if you have a young sports lover. And if you have kids that “bite,” by all means talk about the book with them! There’s some good meat here. And it’s a reliably “clean” middle grades novel that still tackles some heavy issues (drug use).