The Temples family is like royalty in tiny Mattoon, Illinois, and Tim Temples is no exception. A popular high-school athlete going into the summer after his senior year, Tim is on his way to college, and he is preparing to leave his comfortable life as a big man in a small town. Hanging over him are the failures of his older brother Doug, who used to be a hero to Tim. After losing out on his minor-league baseball contract and dropping out of college, Doug is now back in Mattoon, and his relationship with his family is strained. While Tim works a summer job at the local Lender’s bagel factory, he meets an acerbic older woman, Helena. She is unlike anyone Tim has ever known in Mattoon, and their confusing, exciting relationship challenges and matures Tim, helping him make his choice to move on.
While Catch sometimes feels formulaic, Leitch’s love for the small-town Midwest keeps the novel fresh. Tim’s complex inner life shines through in the narration and when he is with Helena, in a way that rarely comes out with his family or his jock friends. There were a few things I found distracting about the novel – occasional stilted dialogue, and the frequent sports references, especially all the shout-outs to my favorite baseball team’s fairly recent real-life games. The story is pervaded with a sense of place, and the Cardinals references help reinforce that very Midwestern feel. Despite some flaws, Tim and his coming-of-age story are surprisingly affecting by the end of the novel.