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Friday, July 23, 2010

Diamond Ruby Does Not Shine

Diamond Ruby
Joseph E. Wallace

Touchstone, 2010

Young Ruby Thomas has to grow up fast after the Spanish Influenza hits New York and her family. Ruby is only 17, but she is determined to keep her two young nieces safe, warm and fed in spite of her older brother’s neglect and irresponsibility. But Ruby has got several things going for her: street smarts, boundless determination, and one unusual skill: the ability to throw a ball as hard as the greatest pitchers in a baseball-mad city. After suffering through a frigid winter with nothing but squirrels to eat, Ruby decides she must use her skill to provide for her family. From Coney Island sideshows to the brand-new Yankee Stadium, Diamond Ruby chronicles the extraordinary life and times of a girl who rises from utter poverty to the kind of celebrity only the Roaring Twenties can bestow. But her fame comes with a price, and Ruby must escape a deadly web of conspiracy and threats from Prohibition rumrunners, the Ku Klux Klan, and the gangster underworld.

I found this book to be at first interesting, then melodramatic, then tedious and finally, unrealistic, despite the fact that it’s based on the true story of Jackie Mitchell, one of the first women to play professional baseball. The beginning evokes a feeling similar to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in which a young girl experiences sorrow and hardships beyond her years. Then it switches gears and becomes The Grapes of Wrath, in which Ruby has to hunt city squirrels and her nieces work 16 hours a day doing piecework instead of going to school. Then it switches again and becomes The Elephant Man, in which Ruby becomes part of the sideshow at Coney Island and is mistreated because she is “different.” Then it turns into The Natural, in which Ruby is approached by bad people and asked to throw her games. It doesn’t take a Mensa member to figure out that things will work out for Ruby and everyone lives Happily Ever After.

If you like baseball stories and fantasy fiction, you will like Diamond Ruby. I found it to be full of clich├ęs, bigger than life historical figures, bizarre coincidences, and stereotypical characters. Kind of like the sports page. In case you’re wondering -- yes, I finished it. After the last failure, I couldn’t not finish it.


This is the author’s first novel.

Other titles by this author:

Grand Old Game: 365 Days of Baseball (2004)
Baseball: 100 Classic Moments in the History of the Game (2000)
The Autobiography of Baseball (1998)

Other titles you may like:

Snow in August by Pete Hamill (1997)
The war veterans have come home. Jackie Robinson is about to become a Dodger. And in one close-knit working-class neighborhood, an eleven-year-old Irish Catholic boy named Michael Devlin has just made friends with a lonely rabbi from Prague. Snow in August is the story of that unlikely friendship – how each opens the other’s eyes to learning and baseball.

The Sweetheart Season by Karen Joy Fowler (1996)
In the tiny town of Magrit, Minnesota, a business owner forms a women’s baseball team called the Sweetheart Sweethearts. One of the employees, Irini, becomes the star center fielder due to her strong throwing arm. Her successes, failures, and revelations on and off the ball field are endearingly recalled by her now grown daughter.

All the Stars Came Out that Night by Kevin King (2005)
A tale based on the 1934 World Series traces the machinations of legal genius Clarence Darrow to bring about the Cardinals win, an achievement also marked by the contributions of such figures as Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Henry Ford.

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