CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 14. . . .December 7, 2012
Dexter Armstrong attacks the pitcher of an opposing team and is kicked off his school's baseball team. Dexter's emotional struggles stem from the loss of both his parents in a car accident. Dexter's best friend, Atul, plays cricket, a sport about which Dexter has little knowledge and little desire to learn. However, once Dexter has tried unsuccessfully to join other teams, he reluctantly agrees to give cricket a go. Dexter learns the game very quickly and is able to become a contributor to the team. He is rewarded with a starting spot on the roster. He has to deal with some tension throughout the story as the captain of the team does not like him, a girl does like him, he has emotional issues stemming from his parents’ death, and his loving aunt who looks after him is not around much. There are also a few times where he has to deal with teasing from his old baseball teammates. The novel concludes with Dexter’s being far more at ease with his life and accepting his present situation comfortably.
Dirk McLean has written Not Out as part of Lorimer’s “Sports Series”. The story is very good, and the character of Dexter is very interesting. The Dexter character keeps readers interested in this novel as they will wonder what he is going to try next, and what will happen if things go wrong for him. I appreciated McLean's skill in creating a character who based his self-esteem in sport and who is struggling to find meaning elsewhere since the death of his parents. McLean shows a real strength in showing readers Dexter's world-view. It's easy to root for Dexter and hope he makes the right decisions. Readers will find it easy to cheer for Dexter and be surprised as the plot forces Dexter to change his choices. McLean also does good work in explaining cricket in a way that keeps it simple for readers who likely have not ever played. The novel has a glossary to explain some of details of the sport.
The Lorimer “Sports Series” website states that the series is targeted toward reluctant readers ages 10-13, but I would say that this one would be more for the 12-14 age group.
It was curious that the novel begins with a character using the expression 'scared shitless' (pg.22) and then doesn't use any more cussing at all. I was pleasantly surprised about this as I was expecting some swearing every few chapters. Then I did have to ask rhetorically, “Was the above necessary? No.” McLean's character development of Dexter was enough to hook the reader by this point, and many other phrases could have been chosen by the author and editors.
The only other uncomfortable aspect of this plot for me was the seemingly forced relationship growth between Dexter and his guardian, his aunt. Again, McLean did a great job in creating Dexter's struggling home life and the stresses of adjusting to life with his aunt as his guardian. At the conclusion of the novel, Dexter begins to call her 'Mom.' This felt forced, but in my status of amateur book reviewer, and armed with my “Lucy Van Pelt Psychologist” certificate, I can say that I doubt Dexter would ever have called her 'Mom' unless he used it in a teasing way.
For those readers who like strong characters and an exploration of the very cool sport of cricket, Not Out will be read. However, just like the character Dexter, the challenge for readers will be to admit that Not Out and its cricket content is worth picking up over other books about sports like soccer, hockey, football and baseball.
John Dryden is an elementary school teacher in BC's Cowichan Valley, a valley that needs more cricket!
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