Review: The Puttermans Are in the House

The Puttermans Are in the House

by Jacquetta Nammar Feldman

Harper (imprint of HarperCollins), 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Lisa Trank

Seventh grade fraternal twins Sammy and Matty are unbeatable on the baseball field. Sammy, the only girl in the league, is fierce at first base and behind the bat. Matty, a southpaw powerhouse, is compared to a young Sandy Koufax. But in the middle of the game before the playoffs, Matty walks off the mound and the field, sending a text to his parents that he's done with the game of baseball forever, and stops talking to Sammy, breaking their lifelong streak of twin telepathy. Matty has a secret that he is not ready to acknowledge, to himself, or to his twin sister: he kissed his best friend Ethan and is realizing that he is gay.

In the Putterman family, baseball is sacred and close to being the most important thing in the world, except to Matty and Sammy's cousin, Becky, who is a year older and filled with jealousy at all the attention her cousins seem to get. The only being who seems to understand Becky is her cat Jess, who Becky is determined to make a social media sensation.

When Hurricane Harvey hits Houston, Sammy and Matty's family is forced to evacuate their modest home and move in with Becky and her parents in their, in Becky's words, "ginormous house." Lives are interrupted, personalities collide, including Becky's cat Jess and Matty and Sammy's neighbor Mrs. Sokoloff's hairless cat, as well as a baseball-loving golden retriever.

Thrown together because of disaster, Matty, Sammy, and Becky, who used to be close, have to navigate a new phase in their relationship. With the backdrop of the hurricane's impact on thousands of lives in Houston, a legendary season for the Houston Astros, and the Putterman clan, the result is a touching story that is filled with humor, acceptance, and love.

Told in three alternating and unique points of view, The Puttermans Are in the House is a coming of age story times three. The choice to include Becky, the cousin, as the third wheel, brings a fresh perspective to the family dynamic, and to the special bond that cousins share. Matty's story of identity and self-discovery is the core of the story, as is the role that baseball, in this touching and deftly written novel. What is particularly touching is how baseball is the salve to a painful and disruptive time for the Puttermans and the city of Houston. It is what unites them and gives them hope, reminding Matty, Sammy, and Becky that what matters is family and being there for one another.

Judaism is woven throughout the book as part of the fabric of the Puttermans' community and lives. It is clear that they live in a large Jewish community, one that is fully integrated into the larger community of Houston. The story utilizes Jewish representation most toward the end during Becky's Bat Mitzvah, when the legend of Sandy Koufax is used by Matty to pull their family's attention away from baseball to where it should be. Other Jewish elements focus on food and religious school.

When Matty finally talks to his family about kissing Ethan, they are fully supportive. His real fear was not family pushback; he was afraid that society would not allow him to be both gay and a baseball player. With their reassurance that they'll be proud if he's the first openly gay baseball player in the MLB, all is well.

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Reviewer Lisa Trank is a Longmont, Colorado based children's book and freelance writer with a focus on Jewish-themed stories, articles, and profiles. She is a member of SCBWI and has served as Assistant Regional Advisor for the Rocky Mountain Chapter for the past 18 months. She will be taking over as editor of Kite Tails, the chapter newsletter, in Fall 2023.