Title: Out of Left Field
Author: Kris Hui Lee
Release Date: May 1st, 2018
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
There’s no playing it safe in love or baseball in this sparkling debut, perfect for fans of Morgan Matson and Kasie West.
Marnie has never had a hard time fitting in with the guys. It would take a lot more than their goofy antics to keep her from joining them at the neighborhood sandlot to do what she loves best: play ball.
An added perk of hanging out at the sandlot? Spending time with Cody Kinski, their high school’s star pitcher and Marnie’s best friend. Sure, he can be stubborn and annoying. He also knows how to make her laugh and respects her skills on the mound. And when he gets nailed in the arm by a bone-fracturing pitch, Marnie becomes the team’s best chance at making it to the playoffs. Except no one told the guys they’re supposed to be on her side.
With her own team against her, Marnie begins questioning her abilities. And when fate throws her a curveball, can she play without losing the game, Cody, and her belief in herself?
SEVENTEEN YEARS OF EXISTENCE HAVE TAUGHT me many lessons—some relevant to survival, others not so much—but one that I have come to fully understand is that there are three kinds of idiocy.
The first is what I call Mundane Idiocy. This is the type of idiocy that happens when you, say, walk into a dark room thinking you can manage without the lights, and then you stub your toe on a table. It happens to the best of us.
The second kind is Voluntary Idiocy. Sticking your tongue to a frozen pole or prodding a beehive with a stick or eating fourteen brownies in one sitting would fall under this category. Discretion is advised.
And finally, the last level of idiocy has been achieved by only one person, and his name is Cody Kinski.
Here I am, in the bleachers of my high school baseball field on a brisk May night—crickets chirping in the darkness beyond the bright stadium lights, the scent of french fries hitching a ride on the gentle breeze. I’m on the tips of my toes, waiting in anticipation like all my fellow game goers. Usually the excitement at high school baseball games never gets higher than the occasional collective gasp after a great hit followed by an anticlimactic defensive play, but our team is far from what you’d call usual. And this particular game is miles from being typical.
It’s the bottom of the seventh. The last inning. There are two outs and two strikes. Kyle’s on first. Cody’s at bat. We’re down five to four, and even though, to me, it feels like our chances of turning it around are borderline zero, everyone else seems to have an ounce of belief left in them.
The pitcher’s given name is Santino Acardi, but in our neck of the woods, he is commonly known as Douche Face.
There are only two things you need to know about this olive-skinned, curly-haired, smarmy bastard: (1) no one on this planet knows how to wear a condescending, selfrighteous smirk like he does, and (2) every time he and Cody get within two hundred feet of each other, the apocalypse seems imminent. I mean, they’re two of the best pitchers in our entire region. They have both been playing on varsity since freshman year, on teams with a notorious rivalry. It’s the kind of clash that’s going to put an end to the world as we know it.
Basically every time Cody has been up at bat during this game, Santino has thrown at least one brushback pitch past Cody’s face. It is only thanks to Cody’s lightning-fast reflexes that he hasn’t been knocked unconscious. Santino has been pulling this stunt since freshman year. He suffers from an oversize ego. Jock stuff—you know the deal.
Standing behind home plate, bat raised over his shoulder, eyes focused on Santino, Cody looks beyond prepared. He’s ready for anything. And he should be, considering Santino’s brushbacks are consistent. Parents, classmates, and residents from around the neighborhood cheer for Cody all across the home-team bleachers. Iron-Arm Kinski, they call him. He was first dubbed that when he was eight by his Little League coach. His killer fastball got him that name, but Cody is one hell of a hitter too. He’s not a god, but sometimes he doesn’t seem to be entirely human.
On the mound, Santino winds up his pitch. Every part of his body, from his long legs to his muscular arms, displays his power.
Then it comes. The ball launches out of Santino’s hand at Major League speed.
Right toward Cody’s head.
But he must not be as prepared as he seemed.
Does he move out of the way?
He stands there like a moron, like there’s not some sadist on the mound. It’s only at the very last second that his left arm flies up to shield his head.
The ball smashes into Cody’s left forearm. His bat clatters to the ground, and it’s like everyone from here to the moon and beyond gasps. Cody clutches his arm to his chest as his face twists in pain. It’s a look I recognize to mean I’ve broken a bone, and I’m in some real fucking pain.
Fire from the pits of hell radiate from the glare Cody shoots Santino, and if I were Santino, I’d want to jump on the next flight out of the country. All of Cody’s fury and hatred—three years in the making—engulfs his face, his whole body. Cody has never been the kind of guy to be provoked by cheap shots, which I’ve learned in the eleven years I’ve known him, but right now, not even I can predict his next move.
But even though he might want to react, Cody doesn’t get the opportunity. Jack Chizz, our coach, runs out to home plate as the ump calls, “Time!”
Joey, our guy on deck and Cody’s best friend, follows Chizz. The three of them—Chizz, the ump, and Joey—gather around Cody, blocking my view of what’s happening.
Santino’s cronies in the outfield crowd together too, but unlike those huddled around home plate, they seem unconcerned about what their overlord Santino has done. And Santino, for all the emotion he’s showing, might as well be standing in line at a grocery store. I’m surprised he isn’t shooting off fireworks and confetti of triumph over his good aim.
The buzzing energy is gone, and it’s replaced by silent anticipation. And then: “WOOOO! WAY TO GO, CODY!” This is Sara, who’s standing next to me. To everyone else, it probably sounds like a cheer of encouragement. But Sara is no overzealous cheerleader.
She’s teasing him.
“You’re an asshole,” I tell her, trying to keep a straight face. Under the florescent lights, her normally tawny skin seems lighter. Her grin widens as she claps loudly. “Bringin’ ’em to state!”
“Oh my gosh,” I mutter, but I can’t help but laugh a little. Sara, like me, has more than a decade of history with Cody, which entitles her to be a complete asshole to him in this very serious and stressful moment.
Cody, who has gotten some breathing room, takes off his batting helmet to reveal his disheveled dark brown hair. He then takes a moment out of the time-out to nonchalantly scratch his forehead with his middle finger in our direction. Those eleven years of friendship work in Cody’s favor too—he gets a pass on being nice.
Cody drops his hand and listens intently to what Chizz is saying. At first, they both seem rather calm, given what’s happened, but then Chizz says something else, and Cody goes ballistic. His eyes bulge in rage, and his uninjured arm flies in all directions. Cody points to first base. Chizz points a commanding finger toward the dugout.
“Don’t be an idiot, Cody,” I mutter. “Go to the hospital.”
As if he can hear me, Cody kicks his bat to the side and stalks toward first. Chizz objects, but Cody shrugs him off. The interaction looks dramatic from here, which is so unlike Cody. He has always been a quiet, modest guy, but being on the field changes him. Out there, he’s the confident jock everyone expects him to be.
Everyone cheers as Cody takes his base. I wonder if they can see him wince in pain with every step. Proud, stubborn bastard.
As the game resumes, so does the crowd’s excitement. They’re exhilarated by Cody’s perseverance (or, as I would call it, idiocy).
The count: two outs, zero strikes, with Kyle on second, Cody on first, and Joey at bat.
Tufts of Joey’s blond hair stick out from under his batting helmet as he steps up to the plate and takes a few practice swings. This is a guy who walks into closed glass doors and trips on perfectly tied shoelaces, but I swear he has magic powers when he’s on the field. He will move mountains to catch a foul ball and has been known to belt homers at the exact moment they’re needed. You’d never know it though, because he can be a real baby sometimes. A few months ago, he was reduced to an inconsolable teary mess after he found out his ex-girlfriend is a lesbian. No one would have guessed at the time that the crying weenie he was then is our best hope for bringing in a miraculous run to tie up the game now.
On the mound, Santino winds up again. One of his trademarks is his sidearm pitching style. That’s why he’s one of the best; he’s unique. I feel like a traitor, but I must admit that I admire his skill.
He throws the first pitch against Joey: foul tip. Strike one.
Second pitch: the ball and bat connect, and the crowd gasps. It’s a foul over the first baseline. There’s a collective sigh. Strike two.
The count: two outs, two strikes, five to four. The hopelessness settles in deeper.
On the third pitch, Joey smacks the ball with an echoing clink! and he runs. Screams of excitement follow him.
The ball soars toward the fence. It looks like it will be a home run between left and center field. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of luck you can only dream about.
The ball hits the back fence and bounces onto the grass where two fielders race to snatch it up.
Kyle’s past third, on his way to home, and Cody’s passing second.
The ball is traveling from the outfield to shortstop.
Kyle’s foot lands on home plate. It’s now five to five.
Cody’s foot hits third.
From the dugout, Chizz shouts at Cody to stop where he is.
The ball is at the shortstop. And Cody’s going home.
“Idiot!” Sara and I both shout.
But it’s no use. The ball and Cody race toward home.
The throw to the catcher is off by a foot. He steps away.
Cody dives, headfirst, arms outstretched.
He collides with home plate and becomes buried under a plume of sand and the catcher.
“Safe!” the ump shouts. “Safe!”
The shouting and cheering intensify as our team hops over the dugout wall and dog piles Joey, who brought in the runs. Santino and his team look like they’re about to commit fifteen different types of manslaughter.
And there, still on the ground in the fetal position clutching his arm, ladies and gentlemen, is the third and final category of idiocy: Cody Kinski.
A fun read!
The emphasis here–as it really should be in YA–is more on Marnie figuring herself and her place in her world (with her family and friends, on the baseball team, what direction she wants her future to go in) and less on romance–though Marnie and Cody dance around things for the entire book, they don’t really get around their we-might-ruin-our-friendship-forever fears until (literally) the last minute.
And really, this is fine.
Like Marnie’s mom, I have no great love for baseball, which is Marnie’s first and lasting great love, but that’s okay. It’s easy to identify with a heroine who has found something she’s passionate about in life but who still is full of doubts. I’ve never even considered being the only girl on a boy’s team, but who can’t remember a time in their lives when they felt like the outsider? Even though I do enjoy wearing dresses (but not shopping for them, because that’s just cruel and unusual punishment) I came out of this book somehow feeling like Marnie and I had way more in common than not.
Ms. Lee has apparently spent years writing stories about Marnie and her friends (as per her acknowledgments) and it really shows–it’s obvious that Marnie and company have a long, complicated history that the author knows both it and her characters well. Little throwaway comments like, “For reasons that would take too long to explain, his voicemail message is Joey and Sara mooing for about thirty seconds” add both humor and realism to the story.
Out of Left Field is a fun debut from an author I’ll definitely be looking for more from!
Rating: 4 stars / A-
I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.
Praise for Out of Left Field:
“The novel offers a nice look at girls in sports, with lots of detailed baseball scenes. Additionally, the story gains some depth as it incorporates the complications and confusion of growing up, namely new expectations and the changing nature of friendships. Lee’s debut rests comfortably with sports-themed novels such as Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen (2006) and Miranda Kenneally’s Stealing Parker (2012).” ̶ Booklist
“Debut author Lee has created a brash, conflicted character in Marnie. She’s not always likable, but her self-doubt is endearing and readers who are into sports fiction/ romance will breeze through this. VERDICT: an additional purchase where realistic fiction is popular. –School Library Journal
About the Author:
Kris Hui Lee is a contemporary YA author who also doubles as a graphic designer. In 2015, she was a finalist in the Pitch Wars writing contest hosted by Brenda Drake. When not writing or designing, she can be found cuddling with a dog on the floor. Learn more at krishuilee.tumblr.com