The All American – Susie Finkbeiner

The All American Susie Finkbeiner
The All-American by Susie Finkbeiner
Also by this author: Stories That Bind Us, The Nature of Small Birds, The Nature of Small Birds
Published by Revell on July 11, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Historical
Buy on Amazon

It is 1952, and nearly all the girls 16-year-old Bertha Harding knows dream of getting married, keeping house, and raising children in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. Bertha dreams of baseball. She reads every story in the sports section, she plays ball with the neighborhood boys--she even writes letters to the pitcher for the Workington Sweet Peas, part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
When Bertha's father is accused of being part of the Communist Party by the House Un-American Activities Committee, life comes crashing down on them. Disgraced and shunned, the Hardings move to a small town to start over where the only one who knows them is shy Uncle Matthew. But dreams are hard to kill, and when Bertha gets a chance to try out for the Workington Sweet Peas, she packs her bags for an adventure she'll never forget.
Join award-winning author Susie Finkbeiner for a summer of chasing down your dreams and discovering the place you truly belong.

Is it too cliché to call a book about baseball a home run? Is it too pretentious to call a book featuring 1950s Americana a Great American Novel? Even if they are, can I do it anyway? Susie Finkbeiner’s latest novel, The All American, is the story of the Harding family. Just your classic, all-American family. Betha loves baseball and dreams of playing for the Workington Sweet Peas, part of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Flossie is the younger sister who wishes she was just a bit older. And William Harding, their father, is a writer who just might be the next big thing in American literary fiction. Until, that is, he’s accused of being part of the Communist Party.

While the term is used as an inflammatory pejorative for lots of things that are not Communist today, in the 1950s the word held a more substantial and real threat. The United States was in the middle of a Cold War with the USSR and being associated with the prevailing political party in the USSR was just about as un-American as one could get. And despite it being a more substantial and real threat—or perhaps because of it—accusations of association faced many prominent figures.

Told in the voices of Betha and Flossie, The All-American is able to give readers two different viewpoints into the realities of a time often idealized as America’s heyday. It’s a meandering journey focused on its characters. Finkbeiner isn’t out to write a political novel or explore McCarthyism in the 1950s, even though that’s a theme of the book. And even though Bertha plays baseball—and I shan’t tell you exactly what happens because you should read it for yourself—this isn’t a sports novel, either. Instead, Finkbeiner focuses on where she excels: stories of families just trying to live regular American lives.

All of Finkbeiner’s novels have explored the extraordinary ordinariness of American life in some fashion. My first Susie Finkbeiner book was Stories That Bind Us. In my review of that book, I wrote that “There’s something comforting in the type of novel that simply presents life as it is, full of its own type of loves, losses, and surprises, and reminds us that these stories—so often the stories of our lives—are also worth telling.” I didn’t know it at the time, but having now read her entire oeuvre, I think I nailed it. Life is story. Regular, ordinary life is bursting with the potential for story.

Because this is a book about being accused of being a Communist, but it’s really about how fear can affect the lives of ordinary, innocent people. It’s a book about baseball, but it’s really a book about growing up and becoming independent. Also stuffed in here are the stories of the relationship between two sisters, between each sister and their parents—Flossie and her dad’s connection being particularly poignant, and between each member of the family and their reclusive uncle. It’s a story about regular, ordinary love. And that’s extraordinary.

Baseball is the all-American game because it’s a game without a clock.* There’s no rush. There’s no hurry. The pace ebbs and flows—there are strikeouts and rallies, shoestring catches and stolen bases. The game has been going on for over a century and new things that have never happened are still happening. That’s a great descriptor for The All American. It’s a slower-paced relational narrative that has twists, turns, thrills, and surprises. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, you’ll cry (especially at the end, my gosh). And when it’s all over, you’ll realize that while what you just experienced was something very familiar, something that has happened many times before, it’s also something completely unique and new.

Susie Finkbeiner never fails to astound. The way she captures people is absolutely incredible. Reading any of her books is an absolute treasure and The All American is no exception. It’s a home run. It’s a Great American Novel (except not so pretentious). It’s a love letter to both literature and baseball. And very subtly it is a reminder to consider what it means to be an American.

*recent MLB pitch clock rules notwithstanding