Unlike most 12-year-olds who face being uprooted, Jeremiah is excited to move. Hillcrest, Ohio, has one of the best high-school baseball teams in the country, with a state-of-the-art field and a town full of fans. Baseball is especially important to Jeremiah following his heart transplant. Since he can no longer play, Jeremiah must stay on the sidelines and work on his new dream of becoming a coach.
Everything in Hillcrest seems perfect at first, but then the Hornets’ star pitcher dies of a heart attack. Soon the coach is being investigated for giving steroids to his players. Hillcrest’s winning tradition has withered into a culture of winning above all else, and the town is fed up. This complicates Jeremiah’s plan to revive the defunct middle-school team, but his health problems have taught him tenacity and optimism. With Coach Jeremiah to remind them of the true importance of baseball, the middle-school team just might be able to restore Hillcrest’s faith in the game.
Soar explores some familiar territory with sickness and sports themes, but Joan Bauer’s detailed novel feels unique and realistic. Jeremiah’s life is not a cliché, but a series of challenges to be confronted with resilience and hope. Jeremiah’s relationship with his adoptive father, Walt, is charming, and his frank musings about his birth mother and the girl who died so he could have a heart are intensely moving. (He named the heart Alice since the doctors wouldn’t disclose her name.) Jeremiah’s wry humor and charm keep his personality believable and, most importantly, likable. For these reasons and so many more, Soar stands apart from the crowd of sports novels for middle-grade readers.