There's only one thing in the world Mickey Vernon really wants, and it's hanging in the window of his family's pool hall. It's an awesome shirt that says Vernon's Pool Hall Youth Tournament Champion, Cruckston New Jersey, and the winner of the tento thirteen-year-olds' nine-ball tournament will have the honor of wearing it. For a ten-year-old, Mickey is one fantastic pool player. But to win the shirt, he's going to have to beat Buck Pender. Buck is three years older, is probably part gorilla, and has been pushing Mickey and his friends around since forever.
Even with coaching from Arlen Pepper, math brain and loyal best friend, Mickey figures he's doomed. But then a bearded stranger in a cowboy hat rolls into town in a Peterbilt truck -- the ultimate. Joseph Alvarez is an ace with a pool cue. Even more important, he knew Mickey's pool champion father, who died when Mickey was a baby. But he's also a man with a past -- and Mickey's mother doesn't want Joseph spending time with her son. Mickey has absolutely got to talk his mother into letting this man teach him his dad's pool secrets. Amazing triple bank shots, fifth-grade heroics, and desperate measures to deal with unreasonable mothers add up to a hilarious novel about pool, parents, and trying to be the best. Review: Breaking, bank shots, slices, and safeties—-fifth grader Mickey Vernon can shoot pool better than some guys twice his age. His philosophy is simple: "I think a lot of the world's problems could be solved by a couple of guys shooting a few racks down at the local hall."
But sometimes that's hard to remember when he's facing down seventh-grade bully Buck Pender. Buck is determined to beat Mickey in the annual youth tournament down at Vernon's, the pool hall owned and operated by Mickey's grandma Poppy. And he just might do it, too. Except Mickey's got a secret weapon. Joseph Alvarez, a big rig trucker and family friend, has returned to town, and he was coached by the best pool player on the nine-ball professional circuit--Mickey's dad, who died shortly after Mickey was born. So with the help of Joseph and his two best friends, 10-year-old math genius Arlen and magician extraordinaire Francine, Mickey just might have a shot at the championship. Then Buck baits him into playing a game in which Mickey badly sprains his stick hand, just three short weeks before the tournament. Has Mickey just scratched the cue ball of his dreams? Fun, folksy, and big-hearted, Joan Bauer's first novel for middle-grade readers is sweeter than a 90-degree bank shot off the rail and into the corner pocket. Mickey's unselfconscious and humorous narration ranks with that of Archie in How I Became a Writer and Oggie Learned to Drive by Janet Taylor Lisle or Peter in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. (Ages 9 to 12) --Jennifer Hubert