by Laurie Morrison
When I started dreaming up a new story after turning in my last book, Saint Ivy, I knew I wanted to write about sports in some way. I’d had so much fun writing about competitive swimming in my novel Up for Air, and I was struck by how deeply readers were connecting to Annabelle’s experiences, whether they were swimmers or not.
My high school drama teacher once said that theater is like real life with the volume turned up; we recognize our own struggles and joys but see them heightened onstage, and that’s what gets us invested. I think sports can give us real life with the volume turned up, too. There’s something so compelling and relatable for me about sports—the camaraderie, the teamwork, the competition…and the pressure. Oh, the pressure.
I’m writing this post in the midst of the Tokyo Olympics, and I (like many, many others) have been very moved by the way Simone Biles has spoken out about the staggering pressure she’s been under and offered such a brave, powerful example of what it looks like to prioritize mental health. I can’t even fathom what it’s like to be Simone Biles, or Naomi Osaka, or any world-class athlete, for that matter. But I was a kid who really loved playing sports…and really did not thrive under pressure.
Sometime around the beginning of high school, when sports got more intense, I lost confidence and got stuck in my own head. That was especially crushing on the soccer field, because I’d thought of soccer as my “thing” for years. And at times, it was especially obvious on the softball field, where the slower pace of the game leaves a lot of time for thinking and it can feel like there’s a spotlight on one player at a time.
I mostly played shortstop, and when the ball was hit to me so hard that I could only react on instinct, I was fine. But sometimes a voice in my head would say, “Hey. Remember that time you threw the ball way too high? What if you do that again? All these people are watching. Don’t mess up now!” And then if I did make an error, that voice got louder and more insistent—sabotaging me from inside my own brain, it felt like.
I set out to write about that kind of experience in my new upper middle grade novel, Coming Up Short. Bea, the thirteen-year-old main character, is a much more serious and accomplished shortstop than I was, but she gets stuck in these negative thought cycles, too. After her dad’s very public fall from grace, Bea finds herself questioning everything, including her ability to throw the ball to first base. She gets “the yips,” making error after error in the biggest game of her life, and then she has to figure out how to move forward when the thing she was best at seems to be slipping through her fingers along with her formerly happy family.
Coming Up Short, which will be published by Abrams on June 21, 2022, is very much a softball book. But it isn’t just a softball book, and it isn’t only for sporty kids. This is a story for anyone who’s found themselves stuck in a negative thought cycle, whether on a sports field, in a classroom, or somewhere else. It’s a story for anyone who has mistakenly believed, as Bea does when her dad is really struggling, that it’s their job to make another person happy. It’s for anyone who’s had to realize that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes, and anyone who has a hard time giving themselves compassion when they come up short.
I’m thrilled to share the beautiful cover, which was illustrated by Mike Burdick and designed by Deena Fleming. I cried when I saw the first color version because there is something so special and validating about seeing a cover that is just right for a book you’ve poured so much of yourself into.
Everything about this cover is just right for Bea’s story. I love the vibrant colors, the lettering, and all the thoughtful details. I love the way Mike Burdick has depicted Bea, capturing her fierceness and her fear. I love how perfectly this pairs with the cover of Up for Air, which is fitting since both books star sporty girls and much of Coming Up Short takes place on Gray Island, the setting of Up for Air, where Bea goes after her disastrous championship game to stay with an aunt she barely knows and attend a softball camp that’s run by her favorite player.
Working on this book has brought me a lot of joy and comfort during a hard time. I hope the cover piques your interest, and I hope the story inside will bring joy and comfort to readers, whether they love softball as much as Bea does or not.
COMING UP SHORT by Laurie Morrison (June 21, 2022)
Laurie Morrison taught middle school for ten years and now writes realistic middle grade novels for 10-14 year-old readers (and anyone who’s ever been 10-14). She is the coauthor of Every Shiny Thing and the author of Up for Air, Saint Ivy, and Coming Up Short (coming 6/21/22 from Abrams/Amulet Books). You can find out more about Laurie and her books at lauriemorrisonwrites.com, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @LaurieLMorrison.