Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Review: The Girl Who Threw Butterflies

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies
Mick Cochrane
Yearling, 2009
Source: borrowed
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Molly Williams is still grieving for her father, who died six months ago.  When she was little, he taught her how to throw a knuckleball and she's been practicing it ever since.  Now, all she wants is to feel close to him and the closest she ever felt was when they played or talked baseball. So Molly tries out for the baseball team.  Baseball.  Not softball.  At first, it seems like the only person she has rooting for her is her best friend, Celia, but Molly has a lot to learn about baseball and life still.  First, though, she's going to have to get through tryouts.

I was worried when I started The Girl Who Threw Butterflies because I'm not a huge sports person.  Wait. Wait.  I am not a sports person at all.  I watch the Cardinals--oh no.  I will agree to watch the Cardinals if someone else wants to watch the game.  Personally I don't really care about any sport, unless you want to count dance as a sport--I don't.  So I was a little worried when a student suggested this book because I didn't want to read a play-by-play of baseball.  I've tried to read sports books before but could never get into them.  Mick Cochrane has written a book about baseball that isn't about baseball, though.

Molly found herself trying to remember all of this, to find words for it, so that she could turn it into a story. It was what she did (30-31).

First of all, Molly is really interesting. You know why she's interesting?  She's not your typical tomboy-who-doesn't-like-girl-stuff character.  (Thank you, Mick Cochrane!) Molly has many interests that have nothing to do with baseball.  She knows about so many different things and has an understanding of social studies, writing, literature, poetry, science.  The best part is that those details are woven into who Molly is so well that I don't notice them as being traits to counteract her ability to play baseball well.  They're just a part of her.  It's how she compares baseball to her life one minute, and then turns the analogy around into a description of a story.  I loved Molly.

Second of all, Cochrane includes ideas of Zen in the story.  Celia encourages her friend to read a book about Zen to help her with her pitching.  It becomes a calming source that Molly returns to each time she feels the pressure of pitching, but not in a pretentious, she knows everything about Zen sort of way.  She even says at one point that she has no idea what half of it is saying, but she gets the important part (for her) and she makes it her own.  I actually found myself taking a deep breath and relaxing my shoulder and neck each time Molly thought of Zen and focusing on her pitch.  They were some beautiful moments.

Third of all, Molly has some great supporters in her life.  Her mom is there and she's dealing with her own grief and trying, not always the way Molly wants her to, but then Molly isn't helping her mom much either.  She has her best friend Celia, whom I love!  Celia is Molly's voice of reason, but also at the same time her encourager to step out and do what she wants and to be okay with wanting something and admitting it.  She's supportive and questioning and pushes her to step out of her comfort zone.  There's also Lonnie, the awkward kid who ends up being her catcher during tryouts because they're both kind of on the outskirts.  Her coaches who never once mention anything about her being a girl.  Not once is that brought up by her coaches.  By the other players--yes.

That brings me to another thing I really liked about this.  Although Molly worries about being the only girl on the team and her classmates and teammates are uncomfortable with her decision to play on the boys' baseball team, on the field, Molly is treated as a player.  She's not treated as a girl who is playing.  For most of the book I was waiting for her coach to say something about it or give her a pep talk about how she could do it, or something.  But now, as I look back on that, I'm glad he didn't.  Did I just want this pep talk because she's a girl?  I think so and this book was so much more than that.

The thing was, the ball didn't care.  That's what she loved about it.  It was completely indifferent, without prejudice.  The ball didn't care if you were a girl or a boy.  Skinny or fat, rich or poor, black or white, cool or uncool, happy or sad, smart and funny or awkward and shy, if you were charming and had a way with words and a winning smile--didn't matter. The ball didn't care (130).
It's about a girl who misses her father and doesn't know why he left and she's trying to find him.  It's about a girl who can't figure out a way to communicate fully with her mother.  It's about a girl who's trying to figure out how to navigate through life.  It's about a girl who may or may not have a crush on the kind of weird kid in school who is a lot more interesting than she realized.

So I liked The Girl Who Threw Butterflies so much more than I thought I would.  It's not just a baseball story.  It's a story that uses baseball as a means to expose the main character and delve deeper into her understanding of the world.  There were a few scenes during games that some of the baseball talk was starting to drag on for me, but for the most part it wasn't too much.  I could even stand the baseball talk because the author allowed for suspense and more than just a play-by-play of the game.

If you enjoy sports books, you will definitely enjoy this.  If you don't enjoy sports books, give it a try and you might be surprised to find your first enjoyable sports themed book.

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