‘Soar’ by Joan Bauer: Another home run for middle grade readers

soar

Rating: 5 stars (or more)

One always has very high expectations for any book by author Joan Bauer. “Soar” will not disappoint. In fact, it might be one of her most touching and uplifting books yet. The main character is Jeremiah, a twelve-year-old (more or less) boy who has had several close calls in his life.

First, he was abandoned at nine months in the coffee room of the company where the man who was to be his adoptive father worked. Walt, his father-to-be, found him there. After taking classes and becoming licensed by the state, Walt was able to adopt him. It’s always been Walt and Jer, together. Walt has been a fabulous father, and the two of them have lived for baseball.

Jeremiah has always wanted to play baseball, but after his heart weakened because of a virus, and he had a transplant, his new heart also has problems. That keeps him from running and participating in baseball. Walt is a computer genius who works on contract. Right now, his job is taking him from St. Louis (where Jer had his heart transplant) to Hillcrest, Ohio, a town famous for its champion high school baseball team.

The first strange thing is that the middle school there does not have a baseball team. And then, right after father and son arrive in town, there is a huge scandal involving the high school baseball team and drugs. One student dies and the town is in an uproar. It seems that no one wants to see baseball in Hillcrest anymore.

But Jeremiah has baseball in his blood, and he also has the soul of an eagle. The eagle theme runs through the story, beginning with the stuffed eagle Jeremiah was clutching when he was abandoned. His desire has always been to “soar,” and being involved in baseball helps him to feel like he is soaring.

The story is about how Jeremiah — singlehandedly — brings baseball back to Hillcrest. He doesn’t just bring back baseball, he brings back the love of baseball. The town realizes that instead of loving baseball for itself, they had begun to love winning. Just the winning. And that’s one of the biggest realizations that readers will come to when reading this story.

This quote says it best:

“It’s okay to lose; it’s okay to not be number one year after year. Taking steroids in sports is cheating. And cheating, even if almost everybody else is doing it, is wrong. Winning by cheating isn’t winning. It’s losing. And losing by honorable efforts can be the biggest win of your life.”

And that’s an important thought for today’s children. The children who get a trophy for participation. Those who think that winning is everything. It really is how you play the game that counts, as well as the heart that you put into it. And while Jeremiah may have a heart that’s physically weak, it’s strong in all the ways that really matter.

One of the minor characters is Benny, an autistic boy who loves baseball. Jeremiah also befriends Franny, the girl across the street who plays baseball so well she puts the boys to shame. Bauer molds all the characters just enough to flesh them out, but she saves the real character building for Jeremiah and, to a lesser extent, Walt.

Teachers, this is a story that your students will love reading. It features diversity, non-traditional families, a female Rabbi, and a great father-son relationship. Buy multiple copies — I plan to.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Viking Books for Young Readers for review purposes.