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A Chance to Win: Boyhood, Baseball, and the…
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A Chance to Win: Boyhood, Baseball, and the Struggle for Redemption in the…

by Jonathan Schuppe

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Urban America fascinates me. The struggle to survive. The casual attitude of trauma victims that would be...in my part of the world....crippled to the point of hopelessness speaks volumes to the endurance of the human spirit. In “A Chance to Win”, author Jonathan Schuppe captures the heart of our survival instinct, only mellowed by our utter fraility and humanity, as he follows Rodney Mason’s quest to survive the relentless beating, both physical and emotional, inner-city dwellers endure.

This was a hard read, because I wanted to literally drive to Newark and step in. I wanted to help the children caught in the web of poverty, addiction, family chaos, and violent crime. Their yearning for stability was palatable. As was their growing hopelessness.

I wanted to offer hope where it there seemingly is none. And as the stories around Mason, a struggling paraplegic/little league coach, and his motley crew, drew me into their chaotic lives, I took on more and more of their burdens. Perhaps that is the point.

My one criticsm is that the author’s journalism background sometimes overshadowed the human side of the story with too many dates and details about political events. Schuppe, nonetheless, sheds light into the dark shadows of our country’s urban poverty with brutal honesty, a beautiful respect for those who let him into their lives, and dignity for all those whose stories he tells in “A Chance to Win”. ( )
  jpogue | Jul 18, 2013 |
This review first appeared on my blog: http://www.knittingandsundries.com/2013/06/a-chance-to-win-by-jonathan-schuppe.h...

My Take:

Characters:

Rodney - a former drug dealer and promising pitcher, paralyzed for a decade from a shot fired by his girlfriend's new boyfriend.

Jonathan Schuppe - a reporter for Newark's Star Ledger who wrote an article about the inner city featuring Rodney. Since the printing of the article, they have kept in touch.

Dewan - his mom is a teacher raising two boys by herself while her husband (Dewan's stepfather) serves a prison sentence.

Derek - born to drug-addicted parents, he moves from relative to relative with no real sense of stability.

Thaiquan Scott - a former ex-con who now works at a hospital. He and his wife are determined to keep their children active and away from trouble.

This is a story of loss and redemption. It is a tale of Rodney's slow progress towards a "better" life and his search for meaning. It is a tale of two boys - one hopeful and earnest, one rather brooding and unsettled. It is a story of a man working hard to keep his children from making the same mistakes he made. It is a story of a city called Newark and it's hard-fought "renaissance" under Mayor Cory Booker. More than anything, it is a story of how a game called baseball brings them all together.

The Bad News Bears this is not - this is a true, gritty, eye-opening, at times heart-breaking, story of loss and redemption that illustrates the uncertainty of many young people's lives as well as how society makes it almost impossible for someone with a criminal record to break free and go on to a productive life.

When a new baseball field is built in 2007, Rodney sees it as an opportunity for him to "do something right" - to steer kids away from the streets and give them something to work for and to look forward to. Rodney's mom single-handedly raised five children while her husband wandered to and fro and eventually died. They grew up poor, and Rodney started dealing drugs to buy groceries for the family. After a stint in prison, and with his life now circumscribed by the boundaries of a wheelchair, Rodney has worked with an anti-violence activist, Thomas Ellis, giving speeches at schools warning kids of the dangers of "street life". He has met with many disappointments and has had ups and downs in his struggle to rebuild his life.

Now he struggles to build a baseball team in an environment where baseball is looked on as a "white man's" sport. Pulling together a ragtag team of kids, most of them never having played baseball before, he finds his calling.

In this narrative biography, Mr. Schuppe has done a masterful job of telling the tale of our urban youth, their parents, and the struggles the poor and working poor face - violence in their streets, the lure of easy drug money, the losses that end up breaking many spirits.

I highly recommend this one for so many reasons. If you haven't grown up in an urban environment, it is extremely difficult to understand how so many people end up turning to a life of crime, drugs, and poverty. With empathy and clarity, Mr. Schuppe opens a path to that understanding.

QUOTES:

When he looked around Elizabeth Avenue now, he saw hundreds of children just like him, growing up just as he had - poor, fatherless, coasting through an inept school system, fascinated with the streets, confronted with the decisions that, fairly or not, would define their adult lives. He knew what they needed: someone to steer them from the path that had been so easy for him to take, the one that now ended at the front curb of the building where he grew up, parked in his wheelchair, watching the world go by. He just needed a way to reach them.

When Rodney told his mother about his plans, she cautioned him against it. She'd been working as a substitute teacher in the South Ward and was appalled by the children's lack of discipline and respect for authority.
"Those kids is off the hook," Clara warned her son. "you ain't going to be able to do it."
"Mom," Rodney said, "I think something's wrong with me because I like doing stuff with bad kids."

Derek didn't complain about his predicament - he said he was just hoping "to go with the flow" - but sometimes he let himself think how nice it would be to stay in the same home for more than a few months at a time. To have his own bed. To stay in the same school. To make friends and keep them. Those were luxuries he'd never known.

"I'm not sad," he said.
"You're not?"
"I've seen so much that I don't get sad anymore."

Book Club Recommendation: Yes; I think this title would be a great book club pick. I can see many different lines of discussion opening up with this one.

BOOK RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars ( )
1 vote jewelknits | Jun 17, 2013 |
Jonathan Schuppe's book is a moving story about what's been called "the other America": a place where children barely in their teens routinely confront unspeakable loss and grief; where adults feel, with some justice, that the system is stacked against them; and where the public institutions -- especially the schools -- that should offer an escape route too often compound generations of failure. Though framed as a baseball story, it's more a story about parenting -- and growing up -- against the odds, and it has the shagginess of real life: the narrative arc isn't tidy, and the reader closes the book uncertain how its protagonists will fare in another year, or another decade. Despite much here that is very sad, the indomitable spirit of Schuppe's real-life characters offers a spark of hope that they, and we, will eventually find the path to a better future. ( )
  DeborahYaffe | May 28, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Rodney Mason, a former drug dealer paralyzed in a drive-by shooting, wants to help the young men of his Newark community stay off the streets by staying on the baseball diamond. The book is a moving story somewhere between Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family and H. G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights. ( )
  kimthedork | Apr 30, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Jonathan Schuppe, a journalist, does a great job presenting Rodney Mason and his story, both the good and the bad. Rodney’s real life struggles and triumphs are presented realistically throughout and you get a real feel for what life in Newark is like. It’s hard to read about the children involved, and the constant difficulties they deal with. An eye-opening story. ( )
  kdkelly92 | Apr 23, 2013 |
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Epigraph
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
- Romans 7:15
In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small . . .
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
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Rodney sat. Every day, he parked himself at the far end of the slate-gray platform outside his apartment building, midnight-blue Yankees cap pulled low over his eyes, arms folded across his chest, tensed jaws masked by a thick, black beard.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805092870, Hardcover)

A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist follows an embattled Little League team in inner-city Newark, revealing the complex realities of life in one of America’s most dangerous cities

When Rodney Mason, an ex-con drug dealer from Newark’s rough South Ward, was shot and paralyzed, he vowed to turn his life around. A former high-school pitching ace with a 93 mph fastball, Mason decided to form a Little League team to help boys avoid the street life that had claimed his youth and mobility. Predictably, the players struggle—they endure poverty, unstable family lives with few positive male role models, failing schools, and dangerous neighborhoods—but through the fists and tears, lopsided losses and rare victories, this bunch of misfits becomes a team, and in doing so gives the community something to root for. With in-depth reporting, fascinating characters, and vivid prose, Jonathan Schuppe’s book is both a penetrating, true-to-life portrait of what’s at stake for kids growing up poor in America’s inner cities and a portrait of Newark itself, a struggling city that has recently known great hope as well as failure.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:15 -0400)

"When Rodney Mason, an ex-con drug dealer from Newark's rough South Ward, was shot and paralyzed, he vowed to turn his life around. A former high-school pitching ace with a 93 mph fastball, Mason decided to form a Little League team to help boys avoid the street life that had claimed his youth and mobility. Predictably, the players struggle--they endure poverty, unstable family lives with few positive male role models, failing schools, and dangerous neighborhoods--but through the fists and tears, lopsided losses, and rare victories, this bunch of misfits becomes a team, and in doing so gives the community something to root for"--Amazon.com.… (more)

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