Malcolm's father was an up and coming baseball player who never made it as far as he wanted to, so he has put his hopes on Malcolm. Malcolm does not enjoy baseball. He feels inept, doesn't get along with his teammates, and feels that he will never be good enough to make his father happy. His mother and father fight a lot, and Malcolm feels like this might be his fault as well. When his father finally lets him quit baseball, they spend the afternoon playing miniature golf. Malcolm does pretty well, so his father changes his focus, and before long Malcolm is practicing all the time and getting lessons from Frank Sanderson, a one time friend of his father's who had a sketchy career in pro golf. Frank is slovenly and talkative, but does a good job improving Malcolm's skills at Fritz's time worn mini gold course. While there, Malcolm meets Lex, who is playing while her mother has a hair appointment across the street, and the two click. This is unusual, because Malcolm has always found it hard to make friends, as has Lex. They both share a love of trivia, and meet several times. Malcolm's parents are glad, but continue to bicker about everything. When his father arranges for Malcolm to play in a tournament, Malcolm has his doubts about his success, but he gives it his best try, even though it looks like his father won't make it. Will Malcolm be able to handle his friendship with Lex, his parents' troubled marriage, and the expectations of his father?
It is far, far more likely that students will be dealing with bickering parents than it is that they will have a parent pass away, yet the majority of middle grade novels kill off the parents. If authors really want to help children process life difficulties, they would write more about parents fighting!
This book was a great mixture of family drama, a light romance, an older mentor (need more of those stories, too) and sports. The cover is fantastic, and the tone light enough that I can sell this as humorous fiction. Another excellent title from Mr. Anderson! Check out his Ms. Bixby's Last Day or The Dungeoneers for more interesting titles on diverse topics!