Casey Snowden lives for baseball, almost literally—his dad and granddad run a school for umpires, where Casey and his best friend Zeke spend all their time. It helps Casey forget his absent mother, who keeps calling to re-establish visitation, and provides inspiration for his future career as an award-winning sportswriter.

Author Audrey Vernick (Water Balloon) brings joy and good humor to a story with some tough realities at its core. The novel culminates in a day when the town comes out to heckle the students while they call a game, to give them a taste of what their jobs will entail. By then, Casey’s faith in his favorite player, his own objectivity and his assessment of his mother have all been challenged, yet he’s resilient. The economic downturn has slowed attendance at the family’s school, but when his grandfather asks if Casey wants to stay, he doesn’t miss a beat: “That’s like asking if I think my blood will always be part of my body.”

A subplot involving Zeke’s reality TV obsession is funny and dovetails with the main storyline in a surprising way. The story Casey decides to write for his school paper leads him to realize he’s not as objective as he’d previously thought, but he takes his lumps with humility. The umpire’s need to confidently make a call in the heat of the moment is something we could all stand to work on.

Screaming at the Ump will be a hit with baseball fans, but this non-fan found it smart, funny, compassionate and a wise look at ethics and integrity in sports and daily life.

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