by Michael Chabon
Hyperion, 2002, ISBN 0-7868-0877-2
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is a children's book addressed to relatively sophisticated young readers, and to adults who aren't embarrassed to be caught reading children's books. It's definitely not for children who are struggling with their reading skills, or adults who are going to be put off by Chabon's periodically directly addressing his presumed young audience, or who have forgotten how difficult it can be for intelligent children to communicate some things even to the most sympathetic of adults.
Summerland is set on Clam Island, in Puget Sound, and tells of one harrowing summer for eleven-year-old Ethan Feld, his friends, his father, and the magical little creatures who call themselves ferishers. The summer starts badly for Ethan because the religion of Clam Island is children's baseball, and Ethan is really, really bad at baseball. Because it's a source of constant humiliation and disappointment for him, he naturally hates it. Of course, his father, a gentle if somewhat distracted soul, is the biggest baseball fan on Clam Island, making it difficult for Ethan to simply quit. And on the day when Ethan's baseball humiliation becomes unbearable to him, he starts seeing and hearing impossible things--first a bushbaby, or maybe a fox, or a lemur, or maybe something else, on the road to the game; then a strangely little black man who makes audible comments to Ethan from too far away, and whom no one else seems to notice at all, and finally strange men tearing up the land around an abandoned resort hotel on the most magical and perfect part of the island, when Ethan runs away from the humiliating experience of the baseball game.
The little black man is Chiron Brown, a talent scout of a very odd kind. The bushbaby, or fox, or lemur, is Cutbelly, Ethan's guide to the world of the ferishers. The ferishers need Ethan's dubious talent as a champion, to save their world, the Summerland, from being completely severed from our world, the Middling, by Coyote and his minions--the sinister gang Ethan saw at the abandoned hotel. Ethan is naturally reluctant to believe that any of this is anything other than a weird delusion, but when his father is kidnapped by Coyote's chief minion, Robin Padfoot, he has to do something. What he does is recruit a couple of his teammates, Jennifer T. Rideout (the best pitcher the Ruth's Fluff-n-Fold Roosters have), and Thor Wignutt (who is convinced he's an alien android) and follow Cutbelly to the Summerland.
Coyote's ambitions prove to be much greater and more dangerous than merely severing the Summerland and the Middling, and Ethan and his painfully recruited band of would-be heroes (Grim the [little] Giant, Spider-Rose the ferisher princess, Taffy the Sasquatch, barnstorm their way across the Summerland, losing most of their games and falling further and further behind in their struggle to reach the root of the Tree in time to stop Coyote, save the universe, and rescue Ethan's father. It's all grim and frightening enough to satisfy bloodthirsty young minds, without being so scary as to terrify their parents into snatching it out of their hands. Recommended.