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Book Briefs: You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?! and “Some of the Parts”

CHILDREN’S

You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?! By Jonah Winter and Barry Blitt; Schwartz & Wade, 40 pages $17.99. Ages 4 to 8.

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The author of many award-winning books about baseball (“You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!”) and such nonbaseball gems as “Here Comes the Garbage Barge!” and “Frida” offers a hugely entertaining and informative picture biography of the beloved baseball manager. Winter’s conversational, humorous narrative immediately draws the reader in (“you must’ve heard of “Casey at the Bat”…Well, this story’s about another Casey…”), from his childhood in Kansas City (the Casey comes from his hometown, K.C.), when he gave up the idea of becoming a dentist since dental tools were designed for right-handed people: “so this left-handed, bowlegged, wisecracking character started playing baseball, traveling from one bush-league town to the next with his cardboard suitcase and big dreams of someday making the majors.” After Stengel was forced to switch from playing baseball to being a manager, Winter offers a fascinating study of what it takes to be a baseball manager, Stengel’s 16 years of managing bad teams before he became manager of minor league teams the Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland Oaks and his surprise hiring by the New York Yankees (which a sidenote declares “is still seen as the wildest curveball in Yankees history”). Even nonbaseball fans will be charmed by this marvelous biography of the Yankees’ legend. The fabulous pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are by Barry Blitt.

– Jean Westmoore

Young Adult

Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby; Alfred A. Knopf, 304 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.

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In her impressive debut novel Barnaby offers a poignant exploration of a teenage girl struggling to find her own way of dealing with the guilt and grief over the death of her charismatic older brother in a car accident. Tallie McGovern has isolated herself from nearly everyone after the accident. She clings to anything of her brother’s – his iPod, a library book, an old flannel shirt – but she can’t even say his name aloud. When she discovers her brother was an organ donor, she becomes obsessed with tracking down the recipients, as if to find another way to keep her brother alive. Barnaby writes with a marvelous directness about a girl struggling with shattering loss, a struggle made even more heart-rending by the portrait of the close bond between the two siblings.

– Jean Westmoore

FICTION

The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal. Translated by Sam Taylor. 242 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux ($25)

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“The Heart” by French author Maylis de Kerangal, is an unusual and often-ravishing novel, taking place, mostly in a hospital, over a single day. The book begins with Simon Limbres, a 19-year-old surfer soaring headlong into a windshield after a day at the beach. He is rushed to the hospital, and his heart saves the life of a 51-year-old woman.

His parents Marianne and Sean are persuaded to relinquish their son’s lungs, kidneys, liver and even his heart though at first they resist. The young nurse who steers them toward this difficult decision, Thomas Remige, is subtle, persuasive and extremely good at his job. And this, even more than the exchange of a death for a life, is the most uncomfortable paradox of “The Heart”: What devastates one group of people thoroughly intoxicates another.

That blinking, magical dot on an ultrasound from 19 years ago, which de Kerangal describes with such tender precision on the book’s opening page, has become the blinking, magical focus of an electrocardiogram in the operating theater.

“The beats, strangely fast but regular, soon form a rhythm, like an embryo’s pulse,” de Kerangal writes. “And what we are hearing is indeed embryonic – the first heartbeat, a new dawn.”

– Jennifer Senior, New York Times News Service