Grand Slam Reviews
“An engaging, well-written sports story with plenty of human drama—
this one is a solid hit!” Kirkus Reviews
Junior Library Guild Selection
“Hazelgrove is skilled at creating fully fleshed-out characters, and the dialogue carries the story along beautifully. While there is plenty of sports action, The Pitcher is ultimately about relationships, and the resolution and personal growth of the characters will appeal to a wide audience.” School Library Journal
“…Hazelgrove’s expansive fifth novel also tackles issues of class, immigration law and inequity.” Publishers Weekly
“Readers will be rooting for underdog Ricky every time he steps onto the mound and tries to control his wild pitch. With tense moments, unexpected twists, and a few humorous and joyful reprieves, Hazelgrove’s writing reflects the dramatic arc of a baseball game.” Junior Library Guild
Kirkus Reviews: (Sept. 2013)
Hazelgrove knits a host of social issues into a difficult but believable tale in which junior high–age Ricky has a gift: He can throw a mean fastball.
Although the story opens with triumph—young Ricky surprises and impresses a carnival barker with his pitching—success generally proves elusive for this son of undocumented immigrants. With an abusive, mostly absent father and racially motivated bullying by teammates and adults, it’s not just Ricky’s pitching in need of a change-up. His supportive, spitfire, Latina mother is seriously ill and without health insurance, his goal of making the high school team is increasingly unlikely, and the litany of obstacles appears otherwise unending. Class issues? Check. Dyslexia? You bet. But Ricky’s first-person voice is entertaining and unflinching; when a drunk, ex-pro pitcher offers surprising assistance, the youngster notes that “we are equipped to handle all the bad shit, you know. But good things are a little trickier.” Given the gritty portrayal of can’t-catch-a-break lives and the cruelty and kindness of people young and old, sophisticated readers might balk at a somewhat implausible solution when Ricky is thrown one final curve before tryouts. But no one will really mind—this kid deserves a break.
An engaging, well-written sports story with plenty of human drama—this one is a solid hit.
Publishers Weekly: (Sept. 2013)
While ostensibly a contemporary baseball story, Hazelgrove’s expansive fifth novel also tackles issues of class, immigration law, and inequity. Thirteen-year-old Ricky Hernandez has a 75 mph pitch and dreams of making the freshman baseball team in Jacksonville, Fla., as the first step toward a professional career. He’s dyslexic, of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, and is ceaselessly taunted by his peers, led by a kid named Eric with an inside track to making the team. While most of Ricky’s teammates can afford sports camp and private lessons, he and his mother are broke due to his abusive father’s lack of financial support and his mother’s mounting medical bills. Despite her deteriorating health, she has loads of attitude, brains, and charm. She singlehandedly persuades their neighbor, “The Pitcher,” who played in the World Series, to set aside his beer, leave his garage, and coach Ricky. Hazelgrove (Rocket Man) measures out a generous sprinkling of American idealism while weaving in legitimate threads of sorrow, employing the oft-used baseball metaphor to fresh and moving effect. Adult characters are particularly well-crafted, giving the book crossover potential. –Cever Bryerman Publisher
School Library Journal: (Sept. 2013)
Ricky Hernandez has dreamed of pitching ever since, at nine years old, he astounded the grown-ups with his throwing speed at a carnival game. Now almost 14, he’s still got the speed, but has never learned to control his pitches. His mom is his biggest fan, and she scrapes together enough for him to play on a youth league team and acts as its assistant coach. But in affluent Jacksonville, Florida, where the other rising freshmen attend elite sport camps and have personal coaches, Ricky and his mom know that he needs more if he’s going to have any chance at the high school team. His reclusive neighbor is rumored to be Jack Langford, the winning pitcher of the 1978 World Series, so Maria begins her campaign to enlist him as Ricky’s coach, but the Pitcher wants no part of it. He has spent the years since his wife died holed up in his garage with beer and cigarettes and ESPN. But Maria is tenacious, and he agrees reluctantly to help her son. The beauty of this story is that there is no sudden epiphany for Ricky when the Pitcher steps in. Langford is impatient and intolerant and sometimes drinks too much. Ricky is used to struggling academically because he can’t stay focused, and lets himself believe that this same lack of concentration is going to keep him from ever being a good pitcher. The other players pick up on his insecurities and use racial slurs to get under his skin at games. Hazelgrove is skilled at creating fully fleshed-out characters, and the dialogue carries the story along beautifully. While there is plenty of sports action, The Pitcher is ultimately about relationships, and the resolution and personal growth of the characters will appeal to a wide audience. –Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Junior Library Guild: (Dec. 2013)
“Readers will be rooting for underdog Ricky every time he steps onto the mound and tries to control his wild pitch. With tense moments, unexpected twists, and a few humorous and joyful reprieves, Hazelgrove’s writing reflects the dramatic arc of a baseball game. Will appeal to baseball players and fans, as well as anyone who has experienced the intensity of tryouts or a high-stakes game.”
Booklist: (Dec. 2013)
Ricky Hernandez, 13, can hurl a 75-miles-per-hour fastball. If only he could get it near the plate. Scraping by with a single mother suffering from lupus, Ricky is determined to show up the rich bullies, the kids who mock his Mexican heritage—all of them. But it seems like a lost cause until he meets his surly hermit neighbor, who just happens to be one-time World Series MVP. Soon a relationship begins between the Hernandezes and Langford, who begrudgingly agrees to give Ricky a few pointers. Mostly, though, he guzzles beer while forcing the kid to do puzzling things like throw stones at trees for weeks on end. It’s a set-up you’ve seen before—bitter, fallen hero taking on his demons via a brash upstart—but Hazelgrove negates cliché by powering straight through it and embracing the classic nature of the tale, which manages to be both modern and timeless. You can taste the ballpark dust, feel the smack of the ball in your glove, and feel assured that, somehow, these three strongly drawn characters will push on to victory. — Daniel Kraus
Reviews For Rocket Man
“It’s hard to say what the ghost of Ernest Hemingway would think of some of the riper writing in William Elliott Hazelgrove’s new psychological thriller; lines such as “Darkness cast shadows on the tangled sheet by his knees, turning his shirt on the chair to dirty linen” might give Hem’s shade pause. But Hemingway would probably approve of most of the work being done in his old attic in Oak Park, Illinois, which Hazelgrove has turned into a studio to produce his praised novels Ripples and Tobacco Sticks.
Mica Highways is more conventional in its plotting and ambition than its predecessors, but equally strong on Southern atmosphere and fully imagined characters. Thirty years after his mother’s mysterious death in 1968 (on the same day that Martin Luther King was killed), Charlie Tidewater makes a trip back to his boyhood home near Richmond, Virginia, leaving behind in Chicago a failed marriage and an equally unsuccessful career as a stockbroker. He stays with his only surviving relative–Granddaddy, Austin Turin, almost 90, a man who knows everything about cars and quite a lot about how people behave under pressure. Charlie is a dry stick, a standard seeker of truth, but Granddaddy has enough meat and juice and memories in him to keep the story moving to its surprisingly suspenseful conclusion.” – Dick Adler | Amazon.com Review
“Admirers of Hazelgrove’s highly regarded earlier fiction (Ripples; Tobacco Sticks) may be dismayed by his overripe prose in this dark tale of Southern racial hatred and murder spanning three generations of an aristocratic Virginia family. Haunted by the troubling enigma of his mother’s death on the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Virginia-born Chicago stockbroker Charlie Tidewater leaves his job and marriage and the “mica highways” of the North to visit his granddaddy in Richmond. As the conundrum begins to unravel, Charlie is stalked by shadowy figures who try to intimidate him into going back North. He meets and becomes enamored of a young divorced mother whose father, a respected judge, seems to have some sinister connection with Charlie’s past. Told in the third person, the narrative cuts between the present and events concerning Charlie’s family as far back as 1927. Unfortunately, Hazelgrove indulges in overwrought and pretentious prose: “Charlie turned to the windows in their lightless dimension, seeing something he couldn’t place, but felt in the void he was seeing.” Despite the mildly intriguing plot, even the most forgiving readers may be put off by the author’s self-conscious straining to find literary Nirvana.” – From Publishers Weekly
“Set in 1945, this skillfully crafted novel by the author of Ripples chronicles the coming-of-age of Lee Hartwell, the pubescent son of a Richmond, Va., lawyer, whose close-knit family is torn apart by WWII and its aftermath. The adult Lee narrates in the particularly resonant tones of nostalgic Southern elegy. The novel also touches on the major dramatic mid-century changes in the American South: the growth of organized labor (organizers are trying to unionize a local steel mill); the tenacious hold of old-style politics on a hotly contested senatorial campaign; and the brewing revolution in race relations. At home, 12-year-old Lee is troubled by his family’s cool reception of one ex-soldier brother, who was shot in the foot (it’s implied that the wound was self-inflicted), while the swaggering eldest brother, who saw no combat, is warmly welcomed. When his father decides to defend a young black woman, believing she has been framed to protect the incumbent senator’s reputation, he is forced to resign as the senator’s Richmond campaign manager, and the town turns against him. Young Lee is also taunted by his friends, and his achingly sweet relationship with the daughter of the steel tycoon backing the senator is also threatened. Explosive racial tension, betrayal and murder, difficult ethical and social decisions, first love and a dramatic denouement in a sweaty Virginia courtroom are skillfully entwined in this haunting tale, which has all the characteristics of a good summer read.” – From Publishers Weekly
“It’s impossible to read this novel without thinking of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and it inevitably pales in comparison. To make matters worse, the Southern and black dialects are overdone, and the bad guys are one-dimensional. But if readers can take a breath and forget Mockingbird, there’s an enjoyable and complex story here. Lee (!), 12, is the youngest of four children in a family in turmoil after World War II. His father is a (mostly) principled lawyer defending an innocent black woman against criminal charges brought by powerful, racist men. Lee’s favorite brother comes home from the war wounded in the foot and is suspected of cowardice; his oldest brother comes home a hero without ever seeing action; and his married sister picks fights with everyone. Despite soap-opera-like entanglements, the plot convolutions are effective and gripping, even if occasionally melodramatic (such as when the father is struck blind just before the big trial). All the elements of the book work together, and if the targets of racial bigotry and oppressive capitalism are too obvious nowadays, that’s a small price to pay for an exciting story that will propel YAs along from start to finish.” – From School Library Journal
“A fine first effort, this novel has moments of riveting power and compelling, even poetic language. As a coming-of-age novel it holds its own, recapturing the elusive quality of uncertainty and boldness that marks adolescents on the brink of adulthood. The two main characters, Brenton and Christian, grapple with the boundaries of friendship, the responsibilities of relationships, and the meaning of what it is to be one’s own man. Competition and cowardice, friendship and fairness are examined within the framework of a summer romance and punctuated by new friends and old dreams.” – From Library Journal
“Although this coming-of-age novel emerges as an updated version of A Separate Peace , the book’s stereotypical characters and strained symbolism make it somewhat less enticing than John Knowles’s classic. Narrator Brenton Heathersfield recalls his boyhood hero worship of superathlete Christian Streizer, a handsome, fearless boy with an ego as large as his talent for sports. Christian’s frailties do not come to light until his 18th summer, when he and Brenton take jobs in Ocean City, Md. The young man’s condescending attitude annoys Brenton, who nonetheless continues to look up to his friend as someone extraordinary–until an act of betrayal and a fatal accident confirm Christian’s vulnerability. Structured as a series of flashbacks, this first novel introduces some significant themes about self-discovery and the realization of dreams. Ultimately, however, the plot is too predictable and some ideas are overstated. Ages 12-up.” – From Publishers Weekly