by Sarah Kapit
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Vivy Cohen is an 11-year-old knuckleball pitcher. See, three years ago, she met the great VJ Capello, her hero, who showed her the knuckleball hold, and she’s been practicing it ever since. She’s gotten pretty good and even gets herself on a team! Her mom isn’t quite so enthusiastic, because she’s afraid to let Vivy do things that are risky, either physically or socially, since Vivy has autism and needs to work on her social skills. Part of that is going to social skills group, which she hates, but one assignment the kids get is to write to their hero. Of course she chooses VJ Capello, who to her surprise writes her back! This begins a correspondence that carries the whole epistolary novel. Mostly they talk about pitching, but also Vivy’s family, including her brother (spoiler alert: he comes out as gay), and her best friend, who is also the catcher on the team she plays for. When Vivy gets pretty seriously hurt, her mom bans her from playing and her great challenge is to convince her. The way she finally does (oops, I mean, spoiler alert) was a little surprising and gratifying – everyone in the story grows a little as a result: mom, dad, Vivy, even VJ, but nothing comes of the coach’s son bullying her. One additional aspect to the story is that VJ is Black and has some reflections on being a Black knuckleball pitcher, a minority of minorities, in a sense.
I won’t make the mistake again (see the comments) of claiming that an author who is writing about an autistic character is not themselves autistic, but it is not clearly the case whether Kapit is autistic or not. So the jury is out on the authenticity of the experience, though it certainly felt very real from an outsider’s perspective, especially the descriptions of Vivy’s emotional meltdowns and her hand flapping of excitement, even if Vivy seemed a bit too in tune with others’ body language and with her own mental process. Regardless, Kapit certainly has down the non-autistic adults in Vivy’s life, especially her mom, who arguably does the most growing. One argument that Vivy makes about making her own decisions is that next year she will have a Bat Mitzvah and “doesn’t that mean something? I think that it should.”