Rooting for Rafael Rosales

288p. Albert Whitman. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807567425.
Gr 5–8—This middle grade novel alternates between past and present to tell the stories of two young people. Rafael is a struggling Minor League Baseball player when 12-year-old Maya first sees him. He's the only ballplayer who will sign her sister's scorecard, and Maya impulsively decides she's going to root for him. Flashbacks follow Rafael's youth in the Dominican Republic. Rafael and his best friend Juan play streetball and dream of reaching baseball's Major Leagues. Juan's older brother Hugo seems to have the best chance; as Juan says: "When he gets signed, my family never needs to worry again." Rafael's big-league ambitions are tempered by his parents' concerns and his awareness that "there are one million boys the teams can choose from." Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, Maya worries about the environment, reads her sister's blog, and babysits a local toddler. She is alarmed to learn that the company her father works for makes an insecticide that is toxic to bees; in response, she plants a garden with native wildflowers. Rafael and Maya are intriguing characters, and Scaletta sensitively limns their concerns and circumstances. Credibility-straining plot twists, including Maya writing a post on her sister's blog that goes viral, and an email friendship with one of Rafael's friends, bring Rafael and Maya together. Readers will root for both protagonists, but there's a little too much going on here, with a few too many coincidences.
VERDICT This lacks the humor of Audrey Vernick's Screaming at the Ump or the high drama of Paul Volponi's Game Seven, but thoughtful readers who enjoy compelling characters and learning about how baseball is played in other countries may appreciate this title.

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