TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
"Change-Up" is the latest sports mystery from author / journalist John Feinstein. Like its predecessors, which include "Cover-Up" and "Vanishing Act," this novel features teen journalists Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson, a huge sporting event (this time, the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and … get this! … the Washington Nationals), and a big-time mystery uncovered by the sleuthing kids.
As in the other novels in this series, "Change-Up" features lots of play-by-play sports action, cameos by real-life famous folks (here, FOX announcer and former catcher Tim McCarver and MLB commissioner Bud Selig both make memorable appearances), and plenty of "backstage" access to locker rooms and press conferences. Sports fans will be thrilled to get an insider's view into the world of professional baseball, complete with opportunities to interview superstars like David Ortiz and Jason Bay. Plus, the whiz-bang baseball action on the field — this is, after all, the World Series! — makes you feel like you're watching an actual game. Truly, the action leaps right off the page, which should help keep even the most reluctant readers enthralled.
I particularly liked two aspects of "Change-Up," which I think help set it apart from the other books in the series:
(1) Stevie — and to a lesser extent Susan Carol — does a lot of old fashioned "shoe leather" investigating, visiting Lynchburg, Virginia several times to chase down leads and interview adults, ranging from police officers to restaurant owners. Stevie is believably nervous about traveling, gaining access to public records, and dealing with some less than friendly adults. Stevie has to muster the courage to challenge folks he suspects are lying and to ask questions he recognizes as potentially hurtful and deeply personal. For me, Stevie's struggles added depth to a character we readers have known for a few years now.
(2) The mystery here isn't as clear cut as in past books, which is wonderful. In fact, the mystery revolves around a journeyman pitcher and a fatal accident that killed his wife years earlier. So much of the investigation, which Susan Carol eventually joins, involves questions of ethics and privacy. I LOVED how, in the end, the kids debated the merits of even reporting a story that could ruin so many lives. Their debate — which touches on fairness, the public's right to know the truth, the sometimes blurred line between good and evil, and the impact of a story on innocent bystanders — felt wholly authentic to me. I think it will give young readers some compelling issues to think about.
My one and only complaint is the use of a vulgarity late in the book, which literally jarred the book from my hands. John Feinstein's books are staples of middle school reading lists, and I've always loved how Feinstein captures the authenticity of a sport without resorting to foul language or locker room antics. I hope one potentially offensive word does not keep this fun, fast-paced, and surprisingly deep sports mystery from its intended audience. With that one caveat in mind, I'd absolutely recommend "Change-Up" to middle school readers, both boys and girls alike, who are interested in sports and/or mysteries. If you've missed the previous books in this series, feel free to jump right in here, as Feinstein's mysteries stand on their own beautifully. Happy reading!