Welcome to the Show (A Mickey Tussler novel, book 3), by Frank Nappi (Apr. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781634508292
Recommended for ages 13+
In the third book of Frank Nappi’s baseball series, it’s 1950 and Mickey Tussler, a pitching wunderkind with autism, Lester, his friend and fellow ballplayer, up from the Negro Leagues, and coach (and stepdad) Murph are playing for the big leagues now. They’re in Boston, playing for the Boston Braves, and Murph is managing the team, who’s not thrilled with the new leadership or their two newest players. At home, things are rough, too: Molly, Mickey’s mom, is not settling into life in Boston and feels increasingly isolated. She wants to go back to Milwaukee, but Murph, terrified that he’s about to lose everything he’s worked so hard for, begs her to give Boston a chance.
Mickey’s finding himself the darling of the crowds as they see what he can do, but the press is quick to pry and capitalize on his challenges, whether it be pushing too deeply into his personal life or misinterpreting his words. Mickey’s struggling with his memories and forming new relationships, with the game – and his newfound celebrity – presenting new challenges. It’s a game of balance, as Mickey, Murph, and Molly all have to figure out where they stand with regard to one another, the game, and everyone around them.
This is my first Mickey Tussler book, but I found myself able to quickly get myself up to speed, thanks to Frank Nappi’s excellent exposition; he lays out past events clearly enough that you have enough of an idea of what’s going on to dive right in. I’m normally not a sports fiction reader, but Nappi’s descriptions of the games, layered with inner monologue and wordless interplay between players on the field, kept me interested and wanting to see more. I’ve heard stories of pitchers and batters getting into it with one another on the field, with pitches buzzing ears (or more), and there’s plenty of that here. ‘Lots of axes to grind between teams makes for some good baseball, and we even get a bench-clearing brawl at one point. Beyond the baseball, we have a deep story about a family meeting challenges. All of the characters in Welcome to the Show are remarkably fleshed out: Mickey, Lester, Molly, and Murph have had two other novels to develop, but the supporting characters: Jolene and her brother, Mickey’s teammate, Ozmore, for instance, have interesting individual stories that make me want to know more. Mickey’s frustration and confusion radiates from the page, and does Murph’s feelings of frustration and helplessness give him greater depth.
I’d suggest this as more of a new adult book than a young teen book for some language and overall story; while Mickey is 17 in the first book of the series, by now, he’s a young man in his early 20s. Add this to collections where sports fiction is popular, and booktalk it to teens who loved Mike Lupica’s middle grade books and are ready to move up.
The first book in the series, A Mile in His Shoes, was made into a TV movie, starring Dean Cain, in 2011. You can read an excerpt from Welcome to the Show here and watch the book trailer below: