By Philip Beard
Eleven- year-old Henry Graham has a lot to learn about life. What he knows for sure is his father moved out, his mom was unhappy and the 1971 Pirates are heading for a pennant race. What he doesn’t know is how long his father will be gone, how his family will cope with the hole left in their lives or if his beloved Pirates will win or lose the series.
Determined not to lose everything that makes his live normal, Henry decides to skip school to go to a Pirates’ game alone. He takes the tickets that his father left behind, hops a bus and meets John Kostka. John will affect Henry’s life for years to come.
John is a man with many problems of his own, but that doesn’t stop him from reaching out to a child who seems adrift. Henry’s mother tries her best to make things as normal for Henry and his sisters Sam and Ruthie after her husband “… had gone to start a new life with one of his students”.
Sam has grown from a promiscuous teen to a bitter adult. Ruthie is failing physically but has reconciled her past and enjoys her future, no matter what it brings. Henry has demons and is at a crossroad in his life that will either enable him to go forward or slip into his family history of past mistakes.
Now married with children, Henry is working as a professor like his father did many years ago. His life is good, but not perfect. He is up for review and may lose his job and his wife Maggie battled breast cancer and is still fighting the demons it left behind. His children have issues that they may or may not grow out of, only time will tell.
At first, I thought Beard named his book Swing because it is about baseball. Then I thought it was because John has no legs and instead of walking, he swings his torso after putting his hands on the ground to move. Then I thought maybe Swing was named for the way life is going along and all of the sudden decisions pop up that make you go back and forth like a pendulum hoping to choose the right thing to do. Or maybe it is about how your life can Swing out of control in an instant and you can go with it or fight the force of nature. Swing is all of these and more.
Beard uses every word to drive the reader toward the crossroads in his character’s lives that everyone experiences in some shape or form. On the surface this book is one of a legless man becoming a father figure to a little boy who desperately needs one, but doesn’t realize it. The impact on young Henry and his family is pivotal. Grown-up Henry has a less than perfect life, just like most of us, yet he has learned from John that life goes on even when you think you’ve lost everything. It will be different, but can be just as rich and full.
Subtle nuances woven in tell as much about the story as the main plot. Franny the dog is so real, I see her in my aging Labrador. I held my breath when she had trouble walking, praying that on the next page Franny would slowing rise and lumber home with Henry.
Swing is one of the most compelling novels I have ever read. Beard masterfully pulls the reader into the life of Henry, both as a child and man. The depth of his characters gave them life from the very first page. I could not put this book down. I took it to work to read on lunch and break, putting my headphones in so people would think I was listening to music so they wouldn’t interrupt me. I cooked dinner with it in one hand and read late into the night.
I like a lot of books for a lot of different reasons. I loved Swing because it was so real I felt I knew Henry and his family by the end of the book. I rejoiced in their victories, felt pain in their sadness and identified with the fact that during your life bad things happen. It is how you cope that matters. Swing deals with heavy issues but is easy to read. After reading it, I realized all of the subtle nuances that affected the story that another author may not have used with the mastery of this one. This allows the reader to think about Swing long after finishing the book.
This is Beard’s third book, and I already have the other two in my queue to read. I suggest you visit your bookstore, download or go to your library to get Swing and read it right now – or at least this summer. Beard has a note at the end “In memory of both the service and daily bravery of Sgt. Kenneth Kocher”. Take time to search out Sgt. Kocher’s Facebook page, to read about the person the character of John is based upon.
Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.