Molly Williams is an eighth grader who just recently lost her father in a tragic accident. Her best friend Celia keeps her sane as her mother grows more and more distant from her. Molly's father taught her how to throw a knuckleball, or a butterfly ball, and their sport was baseball. In dealing with her grief, one night, Molly decides this school year, instead of going out for the girls' softball team, she'd try out for the boys' baseball team. In the course of the tryouts, Molly deals more openly with how her father's death affected her and her mother to herself and she starts to deal with her loss and realize the family she has left, as unconventional as it is, is special in its own right. The book also takes place over a very short time frame, from Molly's decision the night before tryouts, through tryouts and then into the first game of the year, I think perhaps a few weeks pass so we don't see Molly "better," but we see how she might move forward once the reader leaves her behind.
I really love Molly; she is a smart kid and maybe a bit more self-aware than is realistic to think for an eighth grader but I was willing to let that slide. She is also is dealing with the loss of who seemed to be her primary parent. Molly, in exploring her relationship with her mother, realizes she doesn't really know her. It was her father she played catch with, talked with, respected. Watching Molly comes to terms with her mother was fascinating in the small time we get to watch them. She realizes she's never quite been the daughter her mother would like but she also knows her mother loves her just as she is. Molly is also smart enough to have friends around her who tell it like it is. Celia, her best friend, was hilarious at times with her wacky family and straightforward way of seeing things. When Molly is gearing up to look at the roster for the team, to see if she made the cut, Celia tries to be encouraging but then very bluntly drops the facade. Look Molly, she said, let's not kid ourselves. You'll be heartbroken if you don't make it so go look and see and they'll we'll react. I love friends like that (even if you want to strangle them a lot of the time too). Molly's developing relationship with her catcher Lonnie is also sweet and fun to watch. As a knuckler, Molly's pitches are difficult to catch so Lonnie works to be her "personal catcher."
The book also makes Molly very level-headed which I always appreciate. I loathe a character who is constantly bursting into tears at the drop of a hat. Molly has lost her dad, her best friend, but she's very stoic when she thinks about it. She realizes the tears won't help so she spends her time intellectualizing it. That fact makes it that much more powerful when Molly does let herself cry, just once, when Lonnie simply states, not as a question, that Molly misses her father. Like I said, maybe not how a normal eight grade girl would handle things but I admired Molly's strength and courage.
Her admiration of baseball is also impressive. She presents the game as her father presented it to her, a game that the players are both playing against themselves and against the other team. It almost made me think I should try to like baseball a little - Molly showed me a side of the game I'd never realized before. As a pitcher, Molly is often playing the game against herself, against her endurance, her own smarts against the ball, not so much the person holding the bat or base. I also liked that Cochrane didn't make this about a girl playing baseball. That element is there and gets dealt with in what I think is a fairly realistic way, but it's not the reason Molly is playing baseball. She's playing because she genuinely loves the game, because it's a way to remember her father and a way to let him go. The fact that she is a girl is more peripheral to all of those elements.
So, a book that almost convinced me I should appreciate baseball more and a main character I seriously wanted to hug. Not bad at all.