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Book Reviews, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Free Verse, Young Adult Readers

SHAKESPEARE BATS CLEANUP by Ron Koertge

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup is an unexpected little gem of a book.  Written through the pen of its narrator, fourteen-year-old Kevin Boland, it is the surprising journey of a boy discovering new passions, talents and perspectives on his road to becoming the man he will eventually become.

Kevin is stranded at home with mono.  His father, a writer himself, gives him a notebook to use as a journal of sorts while he is stuck in bed.  Swiping a book about poetry structures and philosophies from his father’s bookshelf, Kevin proceeds to experiment with different poetic forms from sestinas and haikus to Shakespearean sonnets.

He discovers that he has an affinity for poetry and for writing poetry of which he had been totally unaware.  Kevin defines himself first as a baseball player (his genuine love and passion for the game come through brilliantly) and second, by the recent death of his mother.  Being confined mostly to his bed with mononucleosis offers him an extended period in which to sort out many of his feelings about loss (both baseball & his mother), filling those empty spaces inside.  Through his poetry Kevin expands and refines the way in which he defines himself as an individual in the world.  HIs personal revelations will provide readers an opportunity to be inspired in themselves and to identify with (and even, perhaps, emulate)his courage in that process.

The book is truly a trifecta in that it succeeds as:  (1) one of those moments of insight in a teenager’s life that help determine who they will become as adults; (2) a real  male teen voice speaking to his feelings and discoveries so far in life from a personal, emotional, sexual and physical perspective; and (3) as a substantial work of inspiring and intriguing poetry in and of itself.

Because it does deal in genuine terms with a fourteen-year-old boy’s observations it does touch on boy-girl relationships as they exist in the beginnings of their development.  It is never, however, crass or inappropriate in any way and is absolutely appropriate for the young adult audience for which it is intended.

I highly recommend this book for older readers (8th grade and up) and for adults.

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