Book Review: Calico Joe (Grisham)

Calico Joe

Author: John Grisham (© 2012 by Belfry Holdings, Inc)

Publisher: Bantam

Genre: Literature & Fiction

Sub-genre: Sports, Coming of Age, Family Saga

Reviewer: Sara

4.5 runner girls

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Summer, 1973. The baseball season would prove unforgettable: Joe Castle, a quiet man from small-town Calico Rock with a mighty swing, rose from the minors on an injury call-up. Records were smashed by the rookie sensation as he captivated fans both young and old, including Paul Tracey, son of hardened New York Mets pitcher Warren Tracey. When the rookie and the old-timer meet on the field, a single fastball alters the trajectory of all of their lives, careers and families.


It had been a long time since I picked up a book by John Grisham, in part because I lost interest once a formulaic trend developed in his novels. I stumbled on Calico Joe at a book fair and was captured by the cover: a pitcher on the mound, staring down. Baseball? Grisham wrote a baseball novel? Um, yes please!

Busy moms, whether baseball fans or not, this is a great read. The timeline flips between present day and 1973, following Paul, the adult grappling with his ill father and the turbulent life he led, and the boy during the most formative summer of his young life.

The eleven year-old Paul storyline focuses on how his life and family were affected by baseball and his father. The decisions and action of the elder Tracey cause a ripple effect, ending two careers and tearing apart the fragile ties that held the family together. Years later, adult Paul must cope with another difficult matter: advancing age and illness of a parent. This storyline is handled with ease and a natural feel. Most poignant for me about this storyline was the tempestuous relationship between father and son. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have healthy relationships with one or both parents, but the twilight of their life will impact many of our lives just the same.

Let me go back to the baseball for a moment. It’s not necessary that the reader be a baseball fan to appreciate the story, but if you are, I think it will heighten your enjoyment of it. The game plays a central role in the story, so haters of the sport, you may want to skip this book. Grisham writes game action, players and statistics with such believability I found myself wanting to read more about these people…only to remember I was reading fiction. No old games to go watch or baseball profiles to read. Darn.

The pivotal moment, that fastball from Tracey to Castle, is no surprise, and yet the tension leading up to the moment is electric. Grisham grabs you right away and doesn’t let go. His character development is natural, the plot well-developed and pace brisk. It’s one of his shorter books but he doesn’t scrimp on action, inter- and intrapersonal conflict, or emotion. The book captures the essence, the magic of baseball that captivates millions from April through October. It left me wanting more, and yet satisfied with the story. Batter up!

Comments are welcome, here or on the reviews posted on Amazon, GoodReads and Barnes & Noble! Have you read Calico Joe? How did you enjoy it? Are you a baseball fan? How did that play into your read of the book?

Thanks for reading. May the good books be plentiful and happy trails!


Featured image: Calico Joe cover, reprint edition (March 26, 2013)
Cover design: Carlos Beltran
Cover photograph: Tim Tadder/Corbis

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