Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park was my first book read for the 2012 48 Hour Book Challenge. It is wonderful! I don't know how I came to wait so long to read it. Keeping Score is set between 1951 and 1955, in Brooklyn. Maggie-o (nine-going-on-ten at the start of the book) is a devoted New York Dodgers fan, listening to many of the games with her father's colleagues at the local firehouse. Her passion for baseball finds a new outlet when one of the men, Jim Maine, teaches Maggie how to keep a scorecard. When Jim is sent to Korea, to fight in the "Korean Conflict", Maggie writes him letters. Through her letters, through her scorecards, through prayers, Maggie does what she can to help the Dodgers win, and to help Jim.
Keeping Score is an ode to baseball. There is no question that (as indicated in an afterword), Linda Sue Park is a diehard baseball fan. She's able to channel her childhood devastation over Chicago Cubs losses into Maggie's reactions to the early 1950's Dodgers. I flagged passage after passage, like this:
"There was something else about keeping score -- and Maggie loved this most of all. Like every other Dodger fan she knew, she felt almost like part of the team, like she herself was one of the Bums. It was as if cheering for them, supporting the, listening to the games, talking about them, somehow helped them play better." (Page 35)
So true. Boston is like that today. And Chicago. And doubtless anywhere that a baseball team has a grip on a community's heart.
Keeping Score is also a historical novel that, in completely organic fashion, teaches the reader about the Korean War (I realized while reading that I had never known how the conflict got started myself, despite years of MASH episodes). Certain aspects of the story are moving (and aspects of the war horrifying), but never overwhelming for the reader. The book also gives readers a window into life in Brooklyn in the 50's, when 15 cents was a reasonable allowance, and you could listen to the Dodgers games as you walked down the street, because everyone had them on the radio. Like this:
"She would walk past the row of houses that looked just like hers, all built of dull brownish yellow brick, one window downstairs two windows up -- to Pinky the butcher or Mr. and Mrs. Floyd at the bakery or the drugstore, and she wouldn't miss a single pitch. Everyone would have their radios on, the sound of the game trailing in and out of each doorway like a long thread that tied the whole neighborhood together." (Page 10)
That last sentence is perfect, isn't it? Park has this ability to get right to the heart of things. If I had more of them lying around, I think that I would want to read her books all day today.
Park's characterization, particularly of Maggie, is flawless. Maggie is a living, breathing girl. She is stubborn and loyal, and the first one to criticize herself when she makes a mistake. In the Author's Note at the end, Park includes comments on how Maggie would have reacted to historical events that took place after the end of the story, and this completely works, because she knows Maggie so well.
As a baseball fan, particularly a Red Sox fan (dating back well before 2004), Keeping Score struck a chord deep in my heart. But Keeping Score is about lots more than baseball. It's about the devastating effects of war, and the ties of family and friendship. It is beautifully written and 100% real. Highly recommended for anyone, male or female (and especially for baseball fans), ages 9 and up.
Publisher: Clarion (@hmhkids)
Publication Date: March, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher (long ago...)
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