Sixth grader Silas Wade adores baseball, and it adores him. Center fielder for his middle-school league and the heart of the team, Silas loves to boost morale with good-natured pranks, spreading love of The Sandlot (aka the greatest movie of all time), but most importantly winning games. For his middle school biography project, Silas turns to baseball too, and knocks it out of the park with a presentation on Glenn Burke, five-tool talent of the L.A. Dodgers in the 1970s, who not only killed it on the baseball diamond, but who invented the high five. For Silas, though, Burke is more than an athlete to look up to for his stats and his swing; Burke had a secret, and Silas does too. Being gay meant the end of baseball for Glenn Burke. Will it be the same for Silas?
Middle grade has featured some really great LGBTQ books in the past five years or so – granted, they are still a rarity, as adults struggle to define what is or isn’t “appropriate” in a children’s book (ugh), but they are trickling in more and more as years go by. This is a special entry in that canon for sure. For one thing, most queer MG books feature girls. And for the books featuring boys, they mostly focus on the sensitive artsy types. But A High Five For Glenn Burke places the star of the baseball team as the one in the closet, challenging stereotypes and hopefully providing middle schoolers (especially straight cis boys) with a more dynamic view of the people around them. It also showcases some wonderful adults and a great best friend for Silas, plus a realistic depiction of youth culture. The baseball talk is fully invested in and should be gobbled up by readers who love Mike Lupica and Matt Christopher books.
The book is also a very sensitive and overdue love letter to Glenn Burke. It celebrates his life and legacy, and is frank about the bigotry within baseball and dissolvement of his career, as well as the tragedy of his eventual addiction and death. I would be interested to know from sports fans if his legacy does endure, or if it was buried. I’ve never heard of him but I’m not a sports fan. From all accounts here, though, it looks like he was an incredibly talented athlete.
Highly recommended for children and middle-grade readers.