What there is in baseball, however, is narrative. There is heroism, teamwork, character, courage, perseverance, skill and endurance. And so it is with PLAY BALL, the new graphic novel written by Nunzio Defilippis and Christina Weir and drawn by Jackie Lewis. Like lots of other great baseball stories (Field of Dreams, The Natural, A League of Their Own, The Pride of the Yankees, Bull Durham...) you don't even have to like baseball to love the book. PLAY BALL is, to some extent, a sports story I suppose, but far more than that, it's a story about a girl who just wants real life to play fair.
I loved the stark black-and-white art which both evoked newspaper comics and suggested something about the lack of grey area in how too many people think about gender. Dash, the protagonist of this story, is a girl, yes, but she’s also a tremendous athlete, and doesn’t want to play what she describes as a “watered-down” version of baseball. She wants the real deal, and has the talent and determination to do it. For her, this is not a feminist stance or political maneuver. She simply loves the game, and wants to do what she is best at.
At its core, the story is about allowing people to be who they are. Arica, Dash’s sister, is more typically girly. She wants to date baseball players, not be one. Dash needs to learn not to despise her for that, while Arica needs to learn to let Dash choose her own path. The shadow of an absent father, one whose lack of interest is clear to us, if not always to Dash, also speaks of the need we all have to see the people we love clearly – rather than seeing them as we wish they were.
So the story in its most basic form is: Teen girl at new school wants to play baseball (not softball) and despite disapproval of sister, peers and school, makes the team. Saying more would give away the rather satisfying (as in, I actually got teary) ending. So while there is no crying in baseball, for me at least, there was a bit of crying in PLAY BALL.
Kick-ass feminist teacher
Righteous boys, and boys who learn to be righteous
After her parents' divorce, Dashiell moves to a new house, along with her mother and her fashionable sister, Arica. A change which excites Dash is that her new school has a baseball team that she is dying to join. Unfortunately, the only person who supports her dream is her mother. Arica fears social suicide, the coach and players claim that it's against the rules for a girl to join the team, the softball team is offended that she won't play for them, and her father won't even return her calls.
Dash is an extremely likable heroine. Although she protests the school's policies about gender and sports, it won't be too radical for young readers; she really just wants to play the game she loves. Dash's talent is undeniable, yet she is relatable. She hides her disappointment behind a mask, lashes out at her mother when she is really angry at her father, and has conflicts with her sister. There are many different aspects to the drama in PLAY BALL, but the authors are able to resolve them in a satisfying way.
While I would have preferred for the illustrations to be in color, I enjoyed Jackie Lewis' art. Her drawings of the baseball games kept me interested in a part of the book that I might have skimmed if it wasn't a graphic novel. Even better, Dash looks like a normal girl, freckled and unconcerned about anything but the game. Male readers won't be alienated by her character, rather, they will wish that they had a best friend like her.
PLAY BALL is a key addition to the sports section of my library, a book that bridges interests and will appeal to all readers.
Realistic lessons and morals.
This book will appeal to readers who don't like sports.
The story was definitely sweet, and I appreciate the feminist element. Speaking of which, this really did always bother me. Why do girls play softball and boys baseball? The heck is that about? Girls can't hit a smaller ball? I believe this to be false. The genders should play the same sports. I really don't see why there should be a sport just for boys or just for girls unless anatomy comes into it, which...gross. I'm even bothered by the fact that women and men mostly do different gymnastics stuff, not that I feel like any woman should resent not having to do the rings except on principle. Also the pommel horse one. Those are stupid.
I feel like I've lost track of what I was talking about. Um, to sum up that meandering rant, girls are awesome and they should be allowed to play any sport they damn well please! The plot line may sound vaguely familiar to anyone who saw A League of Their Own, which is also about women playing baseball, although not a high school girl on a boy's team. Take that movie and add a soupcon of She's the Man. You've pretty much got Play Ball.
That's the real issue I had with this. It doesn't do anything new or innovative. From the opening chapters, I knew EXACTLY what was going to happen. And I was right about every bit of it. I do want to offer props though for the fact that Dashiell (who is awesome for wanting to go by a unique name) has a male best friend, with whom she didn't have to have any sexual tension. So glad when pop culture doesn't subscribe to the When Harry Met Sally mentality, even though I love that movie.
Wow, I am really easily distracted today, huh? Oh, what's that over there? A puppy? *runs after puppy* Book review. Right. I should wrap this up before I find myself discussing my policies on the space program or something.
The art for Play Ball also really didn't work for me. When reading something graphic, the art is often a clincher on my enjoyment level, because, well, it's kind of the point. It's not terrible, and might appeal to some, but I preferred the look of The Avalon Chronicles myself.
Play Ball is a sweet, fun, fast read that I recommend to people who feel like a quick dose of girl power.