Twelve-year-old Silas Wade loves baseball. He could play it, talk about, think about it, and probably even dream about it 24/7. And his baseball hero is Glenn Burke, a black major leaguer who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers beginning in 1976 and who, during some tense moments on the final weekend of the 1977 baseball season, invented the high five. Glenn Burke was also gay and when he came out, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1979 and literally harassed out of baseball. Like Glenn, Silas is also gay and terrified people will discover it before he is ready for the world to know, especially his baseball teammates.
To test the waters, during their Wednesday karaoke afternoon, Silas tells his best friend Zoey. At first, she’s very supportive knowing about Silas, but after a while she begins to feel that being the only one who knows his secret is “weird.”
Silas’ team, the Renegades, has a different third-base coach for the season (the other two coaches are Noles and Rockford). Coach Webb is an aggressive coach, and the Renegades are doing well under his guidance. But one of his rules is no taunting an opposing team with anything that could be perceived as racist, such as their monkey taunts and gestures.
Webb and Silas are quite simpatico when it comes to baseball, and enjoy talking about it with each other, especially their favorite baseball movie The Sandlot. Perhaps sensing he can trust Webb, one afternoon, while talking about Glenn Burke, Silas tells him he’s gay.
After one of the players is called gay at a team visit to a trampoline park, Webb announces that there will be no more using the word gay as a put down. Renegades are expected to “respect everyone – LGTB, women, immigrants, Muslims, everyone,” and that after the third offense, a player would be off the team. This causes a riff between Webb and Coach Noles, who quits the team, taking his son with him. The other members of the team decide it was Silas who snitched about the trampoline park incident, and to take the heat of himself, he tells them Zoey is his girlfriend. Now, she’s done with Silas and his teammates think he’s a liar.
As much a Silas wants to be accepted for who he really is, maybe coming out isn’t the best idea right now.
As a story about Silas’ desire to live an authentic life and his internal struggles with knowing he is gay, wanting to come out and be accepted, but living in fear that people will discover it, this is a book every middle grader should read. Silas’ courage is inspiring, and he is a great character. At first, I found his obsessiveness, his lack of focus (baseball excepted), his speediness to be annoying, until I realized it was his anxiety and his fear at work and Bildner manages to convey that so well when writing about Silas. I was a little disappointed in Zoey, that she would turn on her best friend so easily instead of asking why he did what his did.
As a baseball story, I was completely lost. I thought I understood the game, but apparently not. Did that spoil the novel for me? No one bit. So do not avoid this book if you, too, aren’t baseball savvy. The baseball parts give the story depth and genuineness, and Bildner really knows this sport inside and out. I loved how he cleverly tied together Silas, Glenn Burke and the high five as a prelude to Silas’s coming out. I think it’s a real hook for young readers. I had certainly never thought about the invention of the high five, even though people still do it all the time (though I think it is slowly being replaced with the Obama fist punch) and enjoyed learning its history.
This is believed to be a photo of the first high five between Glenn Burke and Dusty Baker
A High Five for Glenn Burke is an engaging book about friendship, family, loyalty, sportsmanship, and coming out. High five to Phil Bildner for writing a book that needed to be written and read, especially in this day and age.
This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was borrowed from the Brooklyn Public Library
check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.