Out of Left Field

Seventeen-year-old narrator Marnie, a self-described "fight-picking, loudmouthed, baseball-obsessed jock," hasn't played ball competitively since she pitched for her high school's varsity softball team her freshman year. But when her friend--no, really: she totally sees him as just a friend--Cody injures his pitching arm not long before a big game, he encourages Marnie to try out as his replacement on the all-male varsity team. Marnie earns the spot, which miffs the other players, but her greater hurdle is psychological: when she was playing varsity softball, she blew an important game and quit the team. Will she be able to handle blowing it again?

Meanwhile, she and her suburban Chicago "sandlot family" of friends cope with ill-advised sexual encounters, uncertainty about what will follow high school, parents who just don't get it and simple bad luck, as when Marnie finds out that her uncle is marrying the mother of Santino Acardi, a rival team's pitcher who also happens to be the guy who injured Cody's arm. Never mind breaking it to Cody that Santino will be her step-cousin; how is Cody going to feel when he learns that Marnie asked Santino for a pitching lesson?

Kris Hui Lee understands that modern-day teenagers are beleaguered, and her pile-on of drama feels right. Lee also understands baseball: while Out of Left Field sees its characters through their problems in somewhat expected ways, the ball games are nail-biters. Marnie's teen-idiom-rich play-by-play will rivet even readers whose main concern is whether she and Cody "like" or "like like" each other. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

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