Life is Like a Round of Mini Golf by John David Anderson
Malcom Greeley has no control. His parents’ marriage is starting to unravel. He hears voices inside of his head telling him he’ll never be good enough and voices outside of his head prodding him to be better. He tiptoes through life, certain he’s about to take a wrong step, causing everything to blow.
And then he discovers miniature golf.
There is something so approachable about mini golf—a comfort that comes from seeing the entire landscape laid out before you, being able to identify every trap, every obstacle from on high. It is a game with well-defined boundaries, actual walls that will keep you from careening too far off course when you take an errant shot. There are angles, but they can be calculated, or at least estimated. There are hazards, but they can be avoided. You always know exactly what you are up against from the moment you put your dimpled ball on the worn rubber tee.
Most importantly, there is always an end in sight—the sunken cup that beckons to you from across the rolling Astroturf. You may not make it there in one shot, but you will make it there eventually, provided you don’t quit in frustration, tossing your club to the ground and snatching your ball from the green.
In my latest novel, One Last Shot, young Malcolm struggles with anxiety, much of it stemming from his parents’ strained marriage and his own internalized pressure to somehow hold his family together, manifesting itself in a voice of doubt he cannot seem to shake. He finds sources of solace and confidence in the people around him—his quirky new friend and Pacman expert Lex and his often obnoxious, occasionally wise, slushy-addicted putting coach, Frank—but also in mini golf itself, an activity that he just gets. On the course at Fritz’s Family Fun Zone the path is clear; it makes sense to him in a way that nothing else does.
If only growing up were so easy. If only everything was.
I feel for Malcolm; there are voices of doubt in my head too, voices I’ve struggled with since I was a kid. Insecurities I’ve carried with me into adulthood. Sometimes I tell stories to quell them. Sometimes those voices tell the story themselves.
These are uncertain times. Obstacles and hazards abound, and feelings of anxiousness are par for the course. Like Malcolm, I’m sure many of us are just trying to make sense of it all, navigating our way across an unfamiliar landscape. In times like these, when I feel lost, I turn to that which gives me comfort: family, friends, my work, a chunk of chocolate, a walk in the woods, a good book. These are things I can count on—for motivation and inspiration. For healing and hope. And I’m thankful for them, because sometimes my hands shake and I flub my shot. Sometimes it feels like there’s no way around the rock that’s blocking the path, mocking me from the center of the green.
And, let’s face it, there are some holes where I can’t even see the cup from the tee. But it’s there. I know it is. On the top of the plateau or on the other side of the tunnel. Out of sight, but not out of reach.
So I remind myself what Malcolm’s coach Frank would say.
Take a deep breath. Firm up your grip. Find your people in the crowd—the ones who support you, who always cheer you on. Then take your very best shot. And if it doesn’t drop on the first try, don’t sweat it. Just take another.
And when it’s all over, birdie or boogie, celebrate with the people you love.
And a slushy.
John David Anderson is the author of some of the most beloved and highly acclaimed books for kids in recent memory, including the New York Times Notable Book Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wonderful wife and two frawsome kids in Indianapolis, Indiana. He’s never eaten seven scoops of ice cream in a single sitting, but he thinks it sounds like a terrific idea. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org.
About the book:
The beloved author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted returns with a humorous, heartwarming story of family, friendship, and miniature golf.
For as long as he can remember, Malcolm has never felt like he was good enough. Not for his parents, who have always seemed at odds with each other, with Malcolm caught in between. And especially not for his dad, whose competitive drive and love for sports Malcolm has never shared.
That is, until Malcolm discovers miniature golf, the one sport he actually enjoys. Maybe it’s the way in which every hole is a puzzle to be solved. Or the whimsy of the windmills and waterfalls that decorate the course. Or maybe it’s the slushies at the snack bar. But whatever the reason, something about mini golf just clicks for Malcolm. And best of all, it’s a sport his dad can’t possibly obsess over.
Or so Malcolm thinks.
Soon he is signed up for lessons and entered in tournaments. And yet, even as he becomes a better golfer and finds unexpected friends at the local course, be wonders if he might not always be a disappointment. But as the final match of the year draws closer, the tension between Malcolm’s parents reaches a breaking point, and it’s up to him to put the puzzle of his family back together again.
ONE LAST SHOT by John David Anderson, published by Walden Pond Press, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 978-0062643926
Download the Reader’s Guide here: ONE LAST SHOT READER’S GUIDE
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