The Brooklyn Dodgers, who were in the National League with the Giants, had never won the World Series.
Not even once.
It was what Maggie wanted more than anything in the world: for the Dodgers to win the World Series. It seemed like she had wanted it ever since she was born. Every year the Dodgers — whose nickname to Brooklynites was “Dem Bums” — came close, either winning the National League pennant or finishing in the top three. But the biggest prize, the World Series championship, always seemed to slip away from them.
Although Maggie knew it wasn’t true, she felt as if the first words she had learned when
she was a baby were, “Wait till next year!” — the unofficial official slogan of Dodger fans.
Maggie Fortini is a dyed-in-the-wool Dodgers fan. In the early 1950s, that meant choosing between guys like Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo and Pee Wee Reese, for your favorite player. It also meant counting up games towards a championship, and always falling short.
Maggie loves hanging out at her dad’s old workplace, the firehouse, listening to Red Barber call the plays on the radio. There, she meets a new firefighter named Jim who is — horrors! — a Giants fan, but an awfully amiable guy for all that. Jim teaches Maggie the art of keeping score of the games, an elaborate system of marks and letters penciled into tiny boxes on a ruled grid. For Maggie, it’s an almost magical pathway into feeling an essential part of the Dodgers. She fastidiously keeps score for every game, developing new coded systems for tracking stats she feels are vital.
When Jim is drafted into the army and sent to fight in the Korean War, Maggie is equally faithful at writing to him. Their lively correspondence abruptly ends, though. Why isn’t Jim writing anymore? The answer is long in coming. When Maggie finally learns that Jim is suffering from deep trauma, she sets about with her typical determination to find a way to restore him. But nothing seems to help.
Life, like the Dodgers, can be so full of disappointment and heartbreak. What’s the use of hope, when the scorecard always seems to come up short. As the hurts of life pile up, and nothing seems to change them — not sacrifice, not prayer, not loyalty — Maggie questions the value of hoping, of “waiting till next year.” Yet hoping for good is what Maggie learns to cling to.
Happily, we never have to “hope” Linda Sue Park’s novels will be excellent! She is such a fabulous writer! Offering a keen depiction of the Korean War, enough baseball lore for the greatest of fans, a nostalgic look at 1950s Brooklyn, while exploring hope, friendship, trauma, finding one’s particular place in the world, and even prayer — this is a gem of a novel. Thoroughly enjoyable for both genders, I’d recommend it for ages 9 to 90. Includes maps to better understand the Korean conflict, and an Author’s Note about the intricacies of scoring, the Dodgers, her own baseball fervor, and some particular incidents in the Korean War.
With the Korean peninsula so much in the news, and baseball season just underway — I think it’s the perfect book for you to check out now!
Here’s the Amazon link: Keeping Score