NORTH TONAWANDA —
With baseball fading and school gearing up, “Brooklyn Nine” steps to the plate with a foot firmly planted in each season.
Alan Gratz’s novel ties the national pastime to the national mood more than a century and a half, casually passing its icons and memorabilia down through nine generations.
Like one of those cereals advertised as too tasty to be nutritious, “Brooklyn Nine” informs in an entertaining style. Young readers may not realize until their next history exam how much they now know about, oh, say, New York City fires, the Civil War, Jim Crow, bootlegging, women’s independence, nuclear annihilation and Sandy Koufax.
Each story is crafted with a bit of a twist and a link between baseball and the realities of life. (They’re different?) In one fine example, a young ballplayer confronts a bully against the backdrop of Cold War terror in the days of “mutually assured destruction” and “duck-and-cover” defense: “The Russians were in space, the Dodgers were going to California and Eric Kirkpatrick was going to pound him to a pulp.
“Other than that, his life was perfect.”
Each character in each tale makes some casual reference to some ancestor in the one before, but “Brooklyn Nine” doesn’t much dwell on this. It becomes one more discovery tour. There’s a marvelous yarn about life in the All-American Girls League, a lovable extra inning for anyone charmed by the film “A League of Their Own.” Many of the nine vignettes have literary predecessors, including one in the Civil War, remindful of “To Play for a Nation,” but less bloody.
The Civil War chapter includes a look to the future, as two young warriors discuss the state of the game back North:
“Have you heard? They’ve put up a fence around the Union grounds and are charging 10 cents admission!”
“Paying admission will be the ruin of baseball. What’s next, paying the players?”
“Brooklyn Nine” winds it way to a modern conclusion, the nationwide merchandising of memorabilia, a lesson here, too, on the discerning of value. Then, amazingly, like a magician confessing his tricks, Gratz rolls back the curtain and tell how he did it, in an intriguing disclosure sorting fact, fiction and supposition.
So there’s a lesson on literature here, too.
“Brooklyn Nine” moves fairly slowly in spots, and that’s appropriate for the game its author so clearly reveres. In the matter of goals for readers, especially the young, “Brooklyn Nine” touches ‘em all.
IF YOU READ
• WHAT: “Brooklyn Nine”
• BY: Alan Gratz
• DETAILS: Published by Scholastic Inc., 307 pages
• GRADE: B+