Recap: When college baseball player Mike Schwartz travels to South Dakota for an off-season game before his sophomore year, he doesn’t expect to meet the person who will forever change his life. But then again, he’s never met a person as unknowingly talented as Henry Skrimshander. Henry is a shortstop for the opposing team, and he moves with such a grace and ease before which Mike has never seen. He recruits Henry and works his magic to get him accepted to Westish College, where Mike plays ball. The two strike up not only a friendship, but also a mentor-mentee relationship that helps make Henry a great baseball player, not just a potentially great baseball player.
In just three years’ time, Henry’s skills as shortstop surpass Mike’s as catcher. Just when he’s about to break a record for most errorless games, Henry makes his very first error — a throw so bad, it hits his fellow teammate and roommate, Owen, in the face. That one throw changes the course of Henry’s baseball career, leaving him unable to play well for the remainder of the season. But it also steers the direction of Owen’s social life and reverberates throughout the lives of Mike, the Westish College president Guert Affenlight, and the president’s daughter, Pella.
The five of them becomes inexplicably intertwined, joined together by love for each other, for Westish College, and their own personal ambitions.
Analysis: The beauty of this book is its element of surprise as well as its depth and complexity. When I started the book, I expected it to be a story about Henry Skrimshander’s rise to fame and fortune as a talented baseball player. Ultimately, that is the main plot of the book. But as I got deeper into the story, and characters like Pella and Affenlight were introduced, I began to realize it was about much more than that. The book is about finding oneself. Affenlight, who’s in his 60’s, finds himself truly in love with another person for the first time in his life. His daughter, Pella — who does not have a good relationship with her father — also learns what it means to be in both a bad relationship and an ideal one. Mike and Henry are the lost souls of the book — fumbling around until they, too, learn what’s best for them.
This is a book about growing up and learning that often times, there are limitations to your ambitions; it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth it to fight for your dreams, despite the holdups. Or maybe your dreams are never what you really wanted in the first place.
MVP: Mike Schwartz. Though lost — and a bit of a substance abuser — he makes complete 180, realizing that what he always wanted wasn’t necessarily what was right for him. In the end, he’s in the right place at the right time with the right people, leaving both readers and the characters satisfied.