Review of “The Prince of Fenway Park,” by Julianna Baggott (For Ages 8 – 12)

In 2004, the Boston Red Sox finally broke the 86-year “curse” that prevented them from winning a World Series. The curse was said to have originated after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in the off-season of 1919-1920. Prior to the sale of “the Bambino,” the Sox had won five World Series titles. After the sale, the Yankees soared as high as the Sox sunk low.

In The Prince of Fenway Park we meet Oscar, an adopted, mixed-race boy living in Boston in 2004, who was bullied and misunderstood at school, abandoned by his real parents, and thought his white adoptive parents, who were divorced, didn’t really want him. So he could relate to the Red Sox, because they both suffered under a curse.

The day before his twelfth birthday, his mother said she had to leave town, and dropped him off to live with his strange, reclusive dad without her ex-husband’s permission. Oscar’s dad reluctantly took Oscar to the home his son had never seen. It was then he first discovered that his dad was part of an enchanted Celtic fairy world underneath Fenway Park. In fact, there was a whole community of beings under the park, who lived there because of an actual curse. It became Oscar’s mission to save his new family and the Red Sox, and in the process, himself.

When I started this book, I loved the sensitivity and honesty of the characters. I was ever so briefly appalled when the author began adding fantasy elements to the plot. But the Celtic fairyland she creates is culturally relevant to Boston, and its adaptation to Fenway Park is admirably clever. And somehow, it doesn’t really interfere at all with the story about the Red Sox and baseball.

Additionally, in her inclusion of some of the history of baseball (cleverly woven into the plot rather than presented didactically), the author forthrightly and disarmingly confronts the history of racism in baseball in a way that brings out “the audacity of hope” among the great black and Hispanic players through history.

And you do get baseball history in this book. There is no doubt that young readers who are baseball fans will love this book. But it is not just for sports fans. You would have to be quite unflappable not to get caught up in the excitement both of Oscar’s quest to end the curse, and of the game he assembles out of a historical group of baseball players to make it happen. You not only can almost hear Oscar break out singing “You Gotta Have Heart” to his baseball team, but you want to join in as well!

The book also peaks your interest in all sorts of subjects: what are these creatures from Irish mythology? Who were all these baseball players referred to by Oscar and what role did they play in the game’s history? How did Jackie Robinson break the curse of racism in the game?

This is a charming and informative book. I know from Baggott’s website that one of the author’s interests is that boys are falling behind girls in literacy, and so she wanted to write a book that boys would want to read. But everyone will want to read this, including the parents!

Published by HarperCollins, 2009

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