Michael was born to play baseball. At twelve, he can pitch a fastball at 80 mph. His Bronx Little League All-Star team, the Clippers, is a contender for league champions and hopes to make it all the way to the Little League World Series. But fate is intervening for Michael, in all the wrong ways.
His father had died of a heart attack a few months earlier. As an immigrant from Cuba without a mom, he has only his older brother, Carlos, to depend on. The two are afraid that they will be separated, and so are trying to make it on their own, with a bit of help from a kindly neighbor woman who lives in their apartment building.
While he is still grieving over his father in secret—only Michael’s good friend Manny knows the truth—a rival team, also with hopes of a district championship—accuses Michael of being older than twelve, thus violating Little League rules. Michael has used his baptismal certificate as proof of his age. Locating his birth certificate, back in Cuba, is almost impossible, and Michael can’t play until it’s produced. Through this experience, Michael gets a hard lesson about human nature. The only reason he is accused of being older than twelve is so that inferior teams will have a better chance at the district championship. When he asks himself why a rival team player, Justin, hates him, the reader knows the sad answer: simply because Michael is better at something that Justin does.
I worry that students might dismiss Heat because Michael is only twelve. But his problems are certainly serious; and his brother, Carlos, is sixteen. Several chapters are about Carlos’s heroic efforts and serious mistakes made to keep his brother with him; to provide food and shelter; to make sure that Michael can continue to play baseball, furthering his opportunity to make it to the Little League World Series. Plus, if you like baseball, there’s a lot of exciting description of the action. And one of the big lessons of the book will follow you into adulthood: certain people will try to hurt you when they figure out that you can do something they can’t. You won’t be able to stop them from trying. You’ll just have to take the higher ground.