I picked up Summer Ball by Mike Lupica from Soham this evening, and ended up finishing it at one go (another excuse for not working on our AACTE presentation). Lupica writes sports novels for young adults and Summer Ball is a sequel to his previous best-seller Travel Team. I did not have high expectations from this book since I had been less than impressed by Travel Team, a book I had read (once again picking it up from Soham) a year or so ago. Worse still, I could not even go beyond the first few pages of his next book, Heat.

Lupica’s prose is workman-like and I find his books predictable and somewhat boring. Talented kid, check. Cute girlfriend (who doesn’t know that she is a girlfriend), check. Broken family, check. Team faces problems, check. Kid comes through and wins the big game, check. Parents come together at the end, check. Live happily ever after, check. I would not be surprised if his books ended up becoming a Disney movie.

Maybe it was because I had low expectations but I found Summer Ball quite a good book. It had interesting characters and though there is some of the “make sure you hit every possible cliché” in this book, it is less obvious. Of course, after the travails the protagonist goes through, everything turns out ok at the end. (Which is not terribly surprising given the genre.) The book had enough twists and turns to keep me engrossed. It has some good descriptions of basketball, but more importantly it has characters, both good and bad, that come alive on the page. Lupica has clearly grown as a writer, and is less concerned with checking off all the stereotypes than in developing an interesting narrative. Though I have some qualms about how the book ends, particularly the last couple of paragraphs, this is a good novel for kids to read, complex with real dilemmas, and some good basketball.

But if you want a really good young adult sports novel, check out Last Shot by John Feinstein