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