A hundred and fifty years ago, Walt Whitman thrust himself into the literary scene, challenging us to distill the vitality within us, the truly American. Since then, we as a people (and particularly our high school English teachers) have sought the Great American novel. Moby Dick? Too ponderous. Gatsby? Too shiny. Grapes of Wrath? Too many tortoises.
But it turns out that our quest is in vain, simply because it’s already completed. We have the text that encapsulates our youth, our dynamism, our hope. We have Matt Christopher’s The Kid Who Only Hit Homers.
In Sylvester Coddmyer III, the titular hero, we have a mixture of Ragged Dick and Nicholas Nickleby, a boy with humility and heart, who tackles his difficulties with pluck and moxie. Unlike the modern brooding hero, Sylvester is a boy of action rather than words. He’s a self-made kid, one who gets out of bed each morning pulling handfuls of bootstrap. He doesn’t make excuses; he only hits home runs.
But by no means is Sylvester a flat character. He’s an everyman; to describe him too precisely would rob the young reader an opportunity to find common ground with the character, just as every teenage girl in 2009 imagined herself as Bella. No, Sylvester has weaknesses, and ones we can all understand. He likes pie too much, for example. Christopher gives a subtle nod to The Natural by having Christopher overeat pies and miss a game. We’ve all been there!
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