Feature Book of the Week #4 Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Feature Book of the Week
Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip
Jordan Sonnenblick

Meet Peter Friedman, high school freshman. Talented photographer. Former baseball star. When a freakish injury ends his pitching career, Peter has some major things to figure out. Is there life after sports? Why has his grandfather suddenly given him thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment? And is it his imagination, or is the super-hot star of the girls' swim team flirting with him, right in front of the amazing new girl in his photography class? In his new novel, teen author Jordan Sonnenblick performs his usual miraculous feat: exploring deep themes of friendship, romance, family, and tragedy, while still managing to be hilariously funny.

Guest Post from Jordan Sonnenblick 

Hi, everybody!  It’s nice to know my books are being read in Missouri, because I was born there, in Fort Leonard Wood.  I haven’t been back since my dad got out of the Army when I was a year old, but I have done my best to represent.  :)

Anyway, I am especially glad that you are reading Curveball, because that book means a lot to me on a very personal level.  When I started writing it, I thought I was addressing my son’s worst fear.  He was a middle-school athlete at the time, and his life’s dream was to play high school varsity sports one day.  When a pitcher on his travel baseball team suffered a less severe version of the elbow injury that afflicts Peter in the novel, I wrote Curveball to show my son that, even if something similarly catastrophic happened to him, he would be all right in the end.

However, a strange thing happened when I sat down and actually started to plot out the book.  My Grampa Sol (who is also the basis for the character of Solomon Lewis in Notes from the Midnight Driver) had died of dementia the year before, and somehow, Curveball became my way of mourning him.  My Grampa had been a very good amateur photographer, and left me a 1940s camera similar to the one on the front cover of the book.  At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about photography, but I decided to learn how to be a photographer as a way of sharing my grandfather’s hobby, and honoring his memory.  I went out and bought a fancy, expensive digital camera, several lenses, and a bunch of how-to books.  Then I started shooting photos of my son as he played his sports: basketball, soccer, and baseball.  I got pretty decent at sports photography, but more importantly, as I learned the 21st-century version of my grandfather’s craft, I gradually gained a sense of peace with the fact that he was gone.

One last thing: about a year after the novel was published, I found a guy over the Internet who was an expert at refurbishing old cameras.  I sent him Grampa Sol’s, and now it works.  I used it to shoot a roll of photos of my son and daughter side-by-side with my sister’s kids -- all four of my grandfather’s great-grandchildren together.  Now the best of those pictures is framed on my mother’s wall.  As Peter Friedman would say, I got the shot.

Curveball’s biggest gift to me has been that every time somebody reads it, my grandfather lives on.  I hope the love I felt while writing it comes through on the page for each of you.

About the Author

I was born on July 4, 1969 on an Army base in Missouri.  My dad got out of the Army when I was a year old and my older sister was five.  I spent the rest of my childhood in Staten Island, NY.  If you get me really mad or really tired, my New York accent flares up, but most of the time, people canʼt pick out where Iʼm from just by listening.

My favorite school subject was always English, although I was pretty good at everything except sitting still and being quiet. I’m pretty sure my teachers didn’t know what to make of me, because I got straight A’s, but got in trouble constantly. This didn’t stop until I was in my first semester at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. The girl of my adolescent dreams was in my freshman English class, and one day when I was making jokes nonstop, she turned to me and hissed, “Why are you so immature?”
At that moment, I instantly became a model citizen.

At Stuyvesant, I met a creative writing teacher who completely changed my life. His name was Frank McCourt, and my senior year was his last year of teaching. He taught me a ton, mostly through one Yoda-like saying that he repeated to me all year. I would write the funniest piece I could, and the class would be cracking up as I read my work aloud. Then, as soon as the noise subsided, Mr. McCourt would say, “Jordan . . . Jordan. Someday you’ll head for the deep water.” Head for the deep water – great advice if you want to be a writer. Or a salmon.

Mr. McCourt gave me a big creative writing award at graduation, and then retired to work on what would eventually be his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes. His parting words to me, recorded in my yearbook, were, “Yes, you’ve got the comic talent. But there’s deeper stuff waiting to come out. You’re a born writer.” Admittedly, he probably wrote the “born writer” part in hundreds of yearbooks. But the part about “deeper stuff waiting to come out” became the marching orders for my entire writing

After high school, I went to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where I majored in English, but also took a ton of courses in Russian, history, and anthropology. I joined every activity I could handle, too, playing drums in a theater group, writing and announcing for the marching band, and even dressing up as Santa Claus to entertain the young cancer patients at the Children!s Hospital of Philadelphia. The second-best thing I did in college was study abroad in London for my junior year. Studying Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Charles Dickens in the actual places where they wrote some of their finest work was an amazing experience.The best thing I did in college was meet my future wife.

After college, I joined an organization called Teach for America, which recruits people to teach in high-demand areas like rural Louisiana and the inner city. I was sent to teach 5th grade in Houston, Texas. I loved both the job and Houston, but a few years later, when I was ready to get married, my wife and I moved to Pennsylvania to settle down closer to our families.
Then I taught 8th grade English in New Jersey for 11 years. I would have been happy teaching middle school forever, but life took a strange turn. In 2002-03, I had a student named Emily, whose little brother was in treatment for cancer. Emily rarely talked about her brother’s illness, but of course it was very hard on her. One day I asked her mom whether it would be helpful if I found a book for Emily to read about a teen going through a similar situation. Emily’s mom said yes, but I couldn’t find a novel that I thought would be just right for Emily.

So I wrote Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie.

I have written a book per year since then, and as long as I still have someone who will publish the books and a few readers who aren’t my mom, I plan to keep writing.

Make sure you check out Jordan Sonnenblick's other books and his webite


11 Delicious Comments:

SaintGabrielBookBattleTeam said...

So many great quotes from this book. Two of my favorites were, "When you're bored, you're safe." and "If you don't want lots of unexpected hassles in your life, my advice is that you should never be too good at anything." Those are great discussion starters.

Nicholas said...

I appreciate the way he represents Missouri and writes his stories for his fans. I admire the way the author makes stories based off of events in his life. It's pretty clever. Nicholas, 8th grader Lift for Life Academy

SaintGabrielBookBattleTeam said...

So many great quotes in this book!Some favorites: "When you're bored, you're safe." and "If you don't ever want lots of unexpected hassles in your life, my advice is that you should never be too good at anything." Great discussion starters!

Jaleesia said...

I think I could read this book because I really liked the way he bought a camera to keep a connection with his grandfather that died. I keep pictures of family members that died to keep connections with them. Jaleesia, 8th grader at Lift for Life Academy

Kaylei said...

I can relate to this story because he has a good connection with his grandpa. I have a really good connection with my grandma. I also have something in common with him because he loves taking pictures. I also like taking pictures. Kaylei, 8th grader from Lift for Life Academy

Sierra said...

While this book doesn't sound like one I would read, I can relate to the author's story. I said I can relate to him because he moved closer to his family, and I moved to St. Louis to be closer with mine. Sierra, 8th grader from Lift for Life Academy

Shannon Steimel said...

I love that author began writing books because he couldn't find a "just right" book for his student, Emily. The story behind the stories makes me want to read Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie and Curveball. This is definitely a case of "don't judge a book by the title." At first glance, I might not have a lot in common with teenage baseball star, but as I read more about this book, I realized I will be able to relate to the protagonist in this book. Ms. Parker, Library Media Specialist at Lift for Life for Life Academy.

Anonymous said...

I thought that Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip was very good. I liked it how it was something that could happen today.
I was really hoping that Peter's arm would heal up, though. Throughout the entire thing I felt as if it was going to heal, or maybe that was just my brain telling me that there has to be a happily ever after.
I also really enjoyed playing with the advanced photography teacher's Boston accent in my head.

Brittany Woods Book Battle Team said...

This book is so good! This book inspired us because his grandfather inspired him to become a photographer. We also liked the characters in the book and how they were formed throughout the book. The book is also very funny and is full of good quotes!

Anonymous said...

I love this book! I think that we all underestimate jocks, thinking they are hotheads full of hot air. This book shows us that everyone has a soft side, and that not all is lost if what you think you can rely on is torn away from you.

Ft. Zumwalt North Middle

Brittany Woods Book Battle Team said...

Our Book Battle team really loved this book! We especially liked the humor that Jordan Sonnenblick used. The book had a lot of themes that we could relate to, like losing a loved one and navigating relationships between friends and crushes. Overall, we really enjoyed reading this book--plenty of good stuff to talk about!

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