One of the best books I read last month was One Last Shot by John David Anderson, a middle-grade novel about family and friendship that revolves around the world of competitive miniature golf.
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One Last Shot is told from the perspective of eleven-year-old Malcolm who suffers from separation anxiety. After being unwillingly pushed into little league baseball for several years by his father, Malcolm has finally discovered something he both enjoys and seems to have some natural talent at: miniature golf. It doesn’t take long for his dad to begin pushing him here too, finding him a coach and signing him up for a local tournament. Malcolm would much prefer to simply have fun on the course, but if agreeing to take the sport seriously will stop his parents from fighting, then he’ll do it. Soon, Malcolm is making unexpected friends, but his parents’ fights are worse than ever and he worries that he might not be able to hold everything together.
One thing I have learned about America throughout my life is that it is a country that can make anything competitive. A few weeks ago I discovered that competitive bird watching (aka “birding”) is apparent a “thing,” so I shouldn’t really have been surprised to find that miniature golf leagues and tournaments are too—something I didn’t even know existed until picking up One Last Shot.
I loved how the book was set over exactly 18 chapters, one for each hole of a golf course. Each chapter begins with a description of the hole on the course where Malcolm will play his big tournament and ends with his performance there. As the tournament progresses, each chapter flashes back to the weeks leading up to it. Malcolm tries to balance his worsening anxiety—fueled by fears that his own inadequacy is the cause of his parents’ fights—as life at home gets increasingly tense. Malcolm comes to believe that his performance on the golf course is the one thing holding his parents’ marriage together, putting the whole weight of their relationship on his young shoulders. This is something I imagine many young people who have experienced the separation of their parents will identify with.
Many readers will recognize Malcolm’s dad (that pushy parent shouting at the side of the field) just as much as they will recognize Malcolm—the kid who is only on the team because a parent is living vicariously through them. Malcolm’s dad was a high school sports champion and is still clearly chasing the highs of his glory days. One of the book’s most poignant moments comes during a car journey where he is waxing lyrical about the old days and states that “high school was the best,” only to have his old school friend (and Malcolm’s coach), Frank, reply with a sobering, “for some of us, maybe.”
Frank is an interesting character and an unusual one, especially for middle-grade books. He is a down-on-his-luck middle-aged man with an addiction to junk food and a sarcastic tongue, especially when talking about his ex-wife. Personally, I pictured him as The Simpsons‘ Comic Book Guy holding a golf putter. I found myself growing to like Frank as the book progressed and he moved from a caustic almost bitter figure to one I was rooting for, and who found himself (perhaps unexpectedly) rooting for Malcolm.
A more familiar figure was Lex, the twelve-year-old girl Malcolm befriends at his local miniature golf course. With her backpack covered in pin badges and an encyclopedic brain, Lex is clearly something of a manic pixie dream girl but that didn’t stop me from liking her. Her relationship with Malcolm is rooted in friendship and I’d love to read a book focused on her one day in the future.
I found myself struggling to come back to One Last Shot at the beginning as I couldn’t quite get into the story, but once I hit somewhere just before the halfway point, I devoured the rest in a single sitting that made me laugh and cry several times over before rating the book five stars. This is a fabulous book that will resonate with anybody who has found themselves worrying about not being good enough for those around them and I thoroughly recommend it.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.