Natalie Dias Lorenzi knows how to write a first line that pulls a reader into a book. A Long Pitch Home begins, “They took my father three days ago, a week before my tenth birthday.” The statement forms the impetus and background for her story of Balil who gets a visa to come to the United States with his immediate family, except for his father.
Adjustments begin as they leave the airport with his uncle sitting behind the steering wheel on the left side of the car and his mother “sitting next to him, where the steering wheel should be.” His observation of other things that are different include a wide road with four neat lanes but no donkeys pulling carts, no buses with fringe hanging from the bumpers, and no people riding on the tops or hanging out the doors and windows.
The book is laced with pertinent humor. “I smell masala and am glad we are eating something normal. I have heard Americans eat hot dogs, but I do not want to try those. We don’t eat dog meat in Pakistan.” Bilal describes his arrival at the gym, “Anyone can see I’m different from the other kids at baseball camp. I’m the only one with a black eye.”
Bilal’s copes with being separated from his father by Skyping with him occasionally and remaining hopeful that he will be granted a visa soon. He learns a new brand of English that is different from what he learned in Pakistan and focuses on learning to play baseball instead of cricket. His friendship with his rival for the pitching job causes problems with the other players. Jordan is an outcast because she is a girl and team members discourage him from having anything to do with her, but they share more than baseball. She is missing her father who has been deployed to Afghanistan.
The author’s background as a librarian in a school with a majority population of immigrants and years of teaching English as a Second Language in Japan, Italy, and the US bring empathy for this young Muslim Pakistani immigrant who adapts to life in a new country while holding onto traditions that are important to his family and culture. One of my favorite scenes was his attempt to eat customary American foods for Thanksgiving dinner and seeing those traditions through the eyes of someone who is eating them for the first time.
A Long Pitch Home, available on September 6, is an excellent choice for middle schoolers who look for diversity in the characters in their books or for anyone who loves a really good story. If you like both of those and are not in middle school, go ahead and read it. You have my permission.