On the fifth anniversary of her father's death, Ryan leaves school early to attend the first game of the season at Wrigley Field. It's more of an impromptu decision than a rebellious moment. She loved going to the games with her father. Because he supported the Cubs, so does she, even if they aren't the winningest team. They went to the games more out of love for the team than for love of the game itself. Ryan doesn't play baseball herself, nor does she have interest in any other teams or sports.
While at the opening game, she bumps into a kid from school. They start talking, and she is instantly at ease with him. His name is Nick, and his presence will change her life. Without looking for loyalty, love, or friendship, all three have found her. Nick has his own reasons for being guarded, yet he remains optimistic about the future.
Ryan's relationship with Nick teaches her to have hope. From their first encounter and throughout the book, their silences say as much as their dialogue. After feeling lonely for so long, Ryan finally connects with someone, someone who makes her want to move forward instead of backward. Shortly after she takes that first step forward, life presents her with a series of new challenges. Again scared and unsure, she stumbles into the bargaining phase of grief.
Jennifer E. Smith's debut novel is poignant and memorable. The premise will grab sports fans, but the story is for everyone. You needn't be a baseball enthusiast to enjoy this book. It's far more about loss, hope, and trust than about pitches and innings. The Comeback Season will appeal not only to fans of the Cubs, but also to fans of Sarah Dessen and Nicholas Sparks.
My favorite passages from the book include:
It occurs to Ryan that if there really are all sorts of silences, then maybe death is nothing more than the longest of these; and this, nothing more than the empty space left behind by her father. - Page 24
Given the choice between future and past, she would always and without hesitation choose to move backward... - Page 38
Ryan never used to be so unsure of herself, but this is what the last year has done to her. This is how loneliness can change a person. - Page 41
She doesn't check to see whether Nick is following.
She already knows he'll be there. - Page 154
"It's too much to ask of anyone," she finally says. "Not to ever let you down." - Page 218
There aren't just two kinds of endings. It's not as simple as winning or losing. There's a space in-between, and this is where most of us tend to live.
Read my interview with Jennifer E. Smith.
Check out my playlist for Jennifer's second novel, You Are Here.