Reviewed in the United States on March 15, 2020
After traveling back to the Carlisle Indian School in Blowback '07, Arky is still trying to make sense of his adventure and work out the details about how he might find his mother, who is lost in time. Iris, his sister, is also investigating how time travel works for their family by reading her mother's notes and getting visions when she plays the English Horn. She is also talking to Matt, who doesn't quite remember his trip to the past, although he has a picture of the young lady with whom he wanted to be involved, and has some vague memories about his time with her. Arky and Danny (who is trying to decide on his choices for college) get sucked into the past, and Iris and her father cover for the boys, saying that they are on an extended camping trip. They end up in the Civil War, arriving near Chancellorsville. They end up being enlisted in the Thirty-Fourth New York after running into a peddler who seems to know a little about them. They are prepared to fight, but hope that they don't die, but also get involved in playing baseball with the Herkimers. Danny is a stand out player who has some trouble with the old time rules, and his prowess brings him to the attention of Liz, a young Southern lady who doesn't care as much about the social mores as she should. Danny is prepared to stay in the past, but Arky wants to find his mother. He's heard someone singing a song based on Dvorak's New World Symphony that only his mother could have brought to the past, and by the end of the book, he manages to pin down her whereabouts a bit more. Iris, too, finds some information, and it looks like the next book will take us all to Paris in the 1890s.
This is a wonderful mix of Civil War details and baseball. On the one had, we find out about living conditions, food, spies sending signals in laundry, and even about battles themselves. On the other, we learn how baseball was played originally, and see Danny trying to make up new rules and developments, such as baseball mitts, which weren't originally used. Throughout all of this is interwoven the idea that the boys shouldn't change the past, but how can one travel back in time and not at least be tempted?
Iris played a much larger role in this book, and it was interesting to see not only how she covered for her brother and took care of her grieving father, but also how she investigated her mother's research and tried to move with on with her own life, eventually agreeing to go to prom with Matt! It doesn't hurt that I played the English Horn in high school, and once performed the solo that is frequently mentioned.
There are precious few books that combine history with sports, so Blowback '63 is an excellent addition to all high school and most middle school libraries. It is a longer book (400+ pages), so some younger readers might struggle with it, although the content, while occasionally a bit coarse, is still middle grade appropriate. More accessible than Chabon's Summerland, with more fantasy than Wes Tooke's baseball books and more baseball than just about any other historical fantasy books, Blowback '63 is a fascinating trip back to a time when baseball was new, war was raging, and teen boys could get caught up equally in both.