Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages

9780425288597

by Ellen Klages
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Ten-year-old Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in the neighborhood. Even a Little League scout thinks so – until he learns she’s a girl, and then it’s game over. With two tomboy sisters and a self-made woman for a single mom, it’s no surprise that Katy dreams big. But for 1957, she’s stuck in her gender role, until she learns about all the other women who have played professionally for the past 60 years. Katy’s best friend, Jules, isn’t quite as much of a tomboy as she is, but it’s easy to see why the two are friends, even through the awkward reunion scene when Jules gets back from camp. Katy’s story is set against the backdrop of the beginnings of the civil rights movement, the space race, and the end of San Francisco’s minor league era with the arrival of major league Giants.

There are some seriously strong women in this story. Katy’s family, for starters; but also her Aunt Babs, who is as into baseball as she is and takes her and Jules to a double header for her birthday. There’s also Jules’ student teacher; the middle school gym teacher; and her classmate Chip’s aunt, who played for the Negro Leagues (based on a real woman). There’s a scene where Katy goes to Chip’s family barbecue to talk to his aunt and is the only white person there; not much is made of it, but in the year of the Little Rock integration (which they had been discussing in school), I was surprised not to get more internal reaction from Katy. I did like that she got in the newspaper in the end, and that she got to spend a day shadowing a sports reporter to cover the brand new San Francisco Giants major league team.

Nothing changes for Katy on the Little League front, and won’t until she’s too old to play, but she learns that some rewards for your work come for others down the line, and the story ends with a sweet scene between her and a younger neighbor girl who looks up to her. I loved Katy’s relationship with her mother, who has two older daughters and is very relaxed about parenting Katy, talking to her like a grownup a lot and knowing when to let her play hooky for important life experiences. My partner’s aunt grew up in San Francisco in the 1940s and 50s and loves baseball; I plan to get her this book as a gift. I’ll also see how the kids in my 4th/5th grade book club like it! I also learned that Klages wrote two other books which appear to be about Katy’s older sisters, and this is not listed as being part of that series, which is curious to me.

(Update: After I finished this, I was very much in the mood to rewatch A League of Their Own, which held up exceedingly well. I had forgotten entire scenes, like when the African American woman throws a baseball back to the main characters – the briefest and subtlest of nods to the fact that there were African American female baseball players then too, and I wondered why the movie didn’t talk more about them. And then, the next day, the Jewish Women’s Archive shared an article about one of the Jewish women who played on the team, and I realized I forgot to address Katy’s Jewish heritage! Both Katy (and, to a lesser extent, Jules) are very assimilated, which is maybe not surprising for post-Holocaust Jewish Americans. There’s also an article called The Hidden Queer History Behind a League of Their Own, which was really good, and reminds me that Katy’s aunt, who loves baseball, is very briefly referred to as having a roommate, subtly informing the reader that she might be gay.)

For fans of: The Lions of Little Rock and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel (though not as funny)

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