CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 21 . . . . June 8, 2007
Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada, 2007.
198 pp., pbk., $12.99.
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Thom Knutson.
Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.
As we were finishing packing up our stuff to go, we heard a thump thump thump, coming from a car stereo down the street. It was a purple Honda Civic hatchback with a silver racing stripe. I recognized the car immediately. It belonged to our team’s common arch enemy, Luke Fabro. A large fin on the back of the car was a new addition this year. The fancy racing fins are technically called spoilers. I guess because the only people who can afford them are utterly spoiled, like Luke. Spoiled in the sense that his divorced parents give him whatever he wants, and spoiled in that his insides are rotten, like an egg left out in the sun.
Luke was the Bulldog’s best player and pitcher. He never struck out, and he almost threw as hard as I did, but he had a better curveball. The problem with him was he didn’t care about pitching; it was just another thing he was better at than everyone else. Last year he was offered a contract to play in the Western Hockey League, but his mum said he had to finish high school before he could play professional hockey. So he had one more year to wait, which would allow him some more time to grow his blond locks long enough to poke out the back of his helmet and blow in the wind as he skated.
He also had an additional silver stripe painted on the hood of his car for every new girl he made out with; he pretended the meaning was secret, but he conveniently leaked the info out and now everyone knew what they represented. I counted eight stripes as he parked his car on an angle using two spaces instead of one. What a jerk.
Fabro was flanked by his usual two shadows, Brett and Blake, as they walked up to Jiggle and me. Blake and Brett didn’t get anything from their relationship with Luke, except the status of being associated with him and the odd chance to date his leftovers.
“It’s Brook, right?” Fabro said to me, pretending he didn’t know the name of the guy he had played baseball against since Tee Ball. “Man, that’s a weird name for a dude – were your parents hoping for a girl?” Blake and Brett guffawed.
“Real original, Fabro,” I said back, trying to sound tough but casual. “I hope you didn’t hurt your head composing that opening line on the way over here.”
Luke and the boys just continued laughing; they really thought I had never heard that one before.
“What the hell are you doing here anyway?” I asked (I don’t usually say ‘hell’ but in these tough-guy situations if you say ‘heck’ you’re going to get laughed out of town).
“We just came to tell you the weather forecast for the game on Saturday,”Fabro said, smiling like an advertisement of a used-car salesman on the back of a bus. “Looks like there might be a breeze – you should think about putting some rocks in your pocket so you don’t blow off the mound.” A few fans heard him and snickered while Blake and Brett high-fived.
Man, why did he have to bring up my skinniness? He knew that was where I was most vulnerable. I got so flustered that all I could think to say was “Shut up, maybe you’re gonna blow off the mound, turd bait.”
“Seriously, you and your fatty friend look like the number ten walking around,” he drawled, pointing to Jiggle and me. He tucked his hair behind his ears and, without looking, beeped the automatic lock on his car. “See you fairies on Saturday.”
Brook Gunderson lives for one thing – baseball. As pitcher for the Mustangs, his high school team, Brook dreams of eventually going to college on a baseball scholarship. Along the way, however, his goal is nearly upset by his brother’s drug addiction and its subsequent impact on the family, an injury that may permanently affect his throwing arm, and the practical jokes that give Brook the “Pop Rock” thrills in his stomach.
Chin Music, with its lengthy descriptions of baseball plays, is a light and fun story that will appeal especially to those readers with a keen interest in baseball and who are drawn to novels that rely on action rather than complex character development. Brook, himself, is a likeable protagonist, but even his relationship with his brother Frazier, who overdoses, does not add much depth to his profile. Readers will enjoy the creativity of the practical jokes that Brook and his friends play on others. Adults (coach, parents, police) are peripheral figures who come across as either bland (Brook’s parents) or unrealistic (the police), but who provide the adult influence needed to generate some subplots or scenes. Brook’s mother doesn’t find out for over two weeks that the guest room mattress has been standing out in the rain, carried to the backyard by Brook for baseball throwing practice. While away at a tournament, Brook and his friend/co-conspirator Jason (nicknamed Jiggle-Me Jason because of his weight) receive a visit from police the night after they throw a mannequin off the roof of their hotel. The police are portrayed as tough cops when they first arrive (“Look, let’s not play anymore games, Chico.”; “You got a hearing problem, or a respect problem there, church mouse?”), yet are outsmarted by the time they leave (“They fell for [our alibi] hook, line and fishing rod”).
For the non-baseball fan, the “Hamilton Hop” scene provides the most suspense and excitement, as several of the Mustangs run the length of a residential city block from rooftop to rooftop, nearly getting caught by an angry homeowner. Other subplots are more predictable, such as when Brook, showing off while kneeboard surfing on the irrigation canal, tears the ligaments in his arm just before a major game.
Chin Music is a recommended purchase for collections where there is a demand for sports stories, especially about boys. Outside of the baseball theme, however, there may not be enough to hold some readers to its conclusion.
Thom Knutson is the Youth Services Coordinator at Saskatoon Public Library in Saskatoon, SK.
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