“Ethan said, ‘I hate baseball.’ He said it as he followed his father out of the house, in his uniform and spikes. His jersey read ROOSTERS in curvy red script. On the back it said RUTH’S FLUFF ‘N’ FOLD. ‘I hate it,’ he said again, knowing it was cruel. His father was a great lover of baseball.”
Ethan Feld lives on the drizzly Clam Island of the Pacific Northwest. He’s widely recognized as the worst baseball player in the history of the game, despite the fact he hasn’t hit puberty yet. But to please his eccentric and widowed father, Ethan still plays on his local little league team in the Summerlands – a mystical corner of the island which is always sunny and never touched by the rain that usually shrouds the rest of the area. When a 100-year old baseball legend shows up at one of Ethan’s games, he is sucked into the world of faerie. The creatures of the real Summerlands – the faerie world – are under attack by that villainous traitor Coyote, who wants nothing less than to see the entire world destroyed. Together with his best friend Jennifer T. Rideout, a boy named Thor who thinks he’s a cyborg, a sasquatch, a giant who was the runt of his family, and a ferisher, Ethan must learn the magical ways of baseball in order to save his father’s life and prepare for the greatest game of baseball ever played – one which will decide the fate of the world.
Chabon has taken a stab at writing young adult/children’s literature with this story and has used his considerable talents to create a world so engaging and delightful that it makes you feel like you did the first time you set foot in a place your younger self felt was magical. I may have a slight prejudice, since I was raised on baseball, and baseball is the beating heart of this story. Chabon has taken a boy who struggles with things we all struggle with and used an American past-time to help heal his heart and teach him to look at the world around him differently.
Slightly reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” this book picks up the same idea and transforms it into something children might enjoy. Ethan’s travels through the Summerlands, the Winterlands, and everywhere inbetween, introduce him to pieces of Americana and mythology that many children in the United States are unfamiliar with today. He meets not only characters from Native American Indian culture but those created along with our country – legends like Jim Bowie, Annie Oakley, and Paul Bunyan. Jennifer T. and Thor provide the juvenile support a kid needs on a long quest such as Ethan’s, and adult voices of support arrive when needed and never override kid logic. Which is precisely what will appeal to young readers. Chabon has used baseball and mythology as a lens to look at the journey to adulthood, and the product is a impeccably wonderful read.
“Summerland” was published in 2002 and written by Michael Chabon.