The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mick Cochrane. Grades 6-8. Knopf Books for Young Readers, February 2009. Copy obtained from library. Because libraries are awesome!
Ever since Molly's dad died, nothing has felt right. She misses him, obviously. He was there and then suddenly, inexplicably, he wasn't. Molly's mom is a shadow of her former self, leaving Molly on her own a lot. Molly turns to one of the things that reminds her most of her dad - baseball. She used to throw catch with her dad for hours. He taught her how to throw a knuckleball, that most elusive of pitches.
At school, most people are weird. They're too nice or they're afraid to talk to her. Softball tryouts are coming up, but Molly decides she wants something different. She wants to be on the baseball team. Yeah, as in the boys' baseball team.
I picked up this book thinking Ah, it's only 177 pages. I'll breeze through it and check another Cybils nominee off my list.
I wasn't expecting the magic of the writing. Yes, the book is slim, but the writing demands that you slow down and savor it. I was intrigued by the plot and interested in the characters, but it was the writing they kept surprising me (in a good way).
Parts of the book are achingly sad as Molly deals with the death of her father. She's in an interesting place. 8th grade. Almost in high school, almost starting to grow up. She's the prototypical tween - not a kid anymore, but not an adult either.
Take this passage which demonstrates the aching sadness and also the wonderful writing:
In the past six months, Molly had come to understand that the most important stuff, what was closest to the bone, was just what you never talked about. There were no words for it. A heartbreaking dream about toast. The trivial and silly is what you spend your day chattering about. You could ask your friends how they liked your hair, but you could never ask them what you really wanted to know: Is there hope for me, yes or no? (page 5)
Another thing I really enjoyed about this novel is that Mick Cochrane really got the setting across without beating us over the head with it. I've never been to Buffalo, NY, but I feel as if I could picture its dismal gray skies perfectly. From spending three winters outside Chicago, I know exactly that feeling in April when if it's not snowing, you consider it spring (even if it's still cold and cloudy).
As I was reading, the book reminded me of Norma Fox Mazer's After the Rain, which was a favorite of mine growing up. I can't tell you why it reminded me of that book, and it's been a long time since I read it, but that might make a good pairing. Of course, I might also try it on fans of the girls-playing-boys'-sports books since it has that aspect.
Read more reviews at Semicolon, Dog Ear, The Virtual Loft, and Books for Sale.
Also, this book really made me want to try to learn to throw a knuckleball. Hmmm.