CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 14 . . . . March 18, 2005
Getting to First Base with Danalda Chase is a novel for 9 to 14-year-olds that cleverly links baseball and dating. The majority of the storyline is focused on Darcy Spillman's Grade Seven year, the year in which he tries both to secure a place on the school baseball team and get the attention of cool girl Danalda Chase. Darcy also has to face the challenges of changing grade school friendships and a grandfather whose age is catching up with him.
This sounds like a lot of action, but actually Getting to First Base... is anything but a page-turner. Darcy is plagued by doubt and insecurity and takes a long time deciding how to approach Danalda. Strangely, he sullenly refuses most of the help his friends offer to smooth his path towards the girl of his dreams. Therefore, the central conflict is stretched over a year of procrastinating, weakly drawn along with frequent phrases such as, "That's what I was thinking about all November: Danalda saying too bad to Ralph about me not being at the party" (48). As a reader, I quickly became impatient and bored with Darcy's inaction and the lack of genuine conflict. Things don't start moving along more briskly until almost halfway through the novel, when Darcy finally accepts some help Kamna's coaching adds humour and believability to the story.
A more serious problem is the disturbing objectification of female characters in the novel. It is surprising that a children's book with a title relying on an idiom that implies sexual inequality and a profound lack of respect for women would be published well into the twenty-first century. While many elements of the baseball/dating analogy are successful, the title's reliance on an innuendo-ridden bit of baseball slang is not. And while middle school crushes are rarely based on mutual respect and admiration, it is still more than a little insulting to read the many sexually objectifying comments the characters toss around throughout the book, such as "'Danalda Chase, what a girl!. . . . You heard about how she got to first base with Vernon Maxwell, didn't you?'" (3). Advice on dating includes "Don't ask, tell" (151). This presupposition that girls/women like to be taken control of is decades out of date, something that Darcy does not seem to realize in spite of living in a family whose parents function (more or less) as equals. The fact that Darcy is finally able to recognize his friend Kamna as both a human being and a girl to whom he is attracted at the novel's conclusion is a case of too little too late.
However, the most frustrating aspect of Getting to First Base... is the way the characters often don't seem like real children. Personally, I have never heard a Grade Six boy say anything like "'No, really, guys! Our baseball careers are basically over midget will be impossible to make next year. So, it's the beginning of a new part of our lives: meet a nice girl, get married and start a family'" (17). Dating advice is packaged into snide statements that sound more like twenty-something Friend Chandler Bing than Darcy's Grade Seven friend: Darcy is advised to say "'So you want to go out on Friday.' Not 'I was wondering if you might deem it possible to go out sometime in the next decade?'" (151). And when Darcy's father chides him by saying "'Your mother and I have both tried to speak to you like an adult'" (140), one wonders why any parent would treat a 12-year-old Grade Seven boy as an adult. Matt Beam is able to convey a sense of verisimilitude convincingly through Darcy's family relationships, the essence of his town and school, and the many baseball facts and references. This seems to indicate that Getting to First Base... is social realism, so when some of the details don't fit comfortably into the story, its constructed reality falls apart in a way that jarred my reading experience dramatically. Perhaps these characters' seeming maturity is an indication that Getting to First Base... would have made a more successful Young Adult novel; certainly the intense focus on dating would seem to point that way.
What Getting to First Base with Danalda Chase does very well is convey a boy's love of baseball. Also, the male relationships in the Spillman family are fascinating: the novel would have been the richer had these been more fully explored and integrated. If this had been the case, the quirky linking of baseball and love, one of the novel's greatest strengths, still could have shone perhaps even more brightly.
Recommended with reservations.
Michelle Warry is a graduate student in UBC's Master of Arts in Children's Literature program.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.