On Sundays, Gothamist runs opinion pieces on issues relevant to life in New York. The views expressed below belong entirely to the author.

2005_12_artscatch.jpgWill Leitch may be one of the newest incarnations of the Gawker empire (with his sports blog, Deadspin) and one of the managing editors of The Black Table, and he may be the force behind the Growth Spurt reading series. That is to say, he may seem like a rising star on the New York literary scene. But to read his debut novel, Catch, Will Leitch is really just Illinois’ native son, with baseball running through his veins.

In fact, reading Leitch’s young adult novel, I had to continually separate the young novelist and New Yorker from his Illinois small-town boy character, Tim Temples. If Leitch isn’t really Temples, he got the type down cold. Temples, who’s a high-school golden boy graduate with his father’s and brother’s baseball fame to live up to, college to start at the end of the summer, and a pretty sharp wit, is a dead ringer for every midwestern jock I’ve ever met – except the part about the sharp wit. In the summer before he moves away to Champaign to attend university, Temples falls in love with a slightly older, and brilliantly caustic girl named Helena (a wonderfully written character and perhaps the real star of the novel), and he finds himself relating a little less to his high-school buddies and unsure who he’ll relate to now. As the book – and the summer – progresses, everyone reading it who has any semblance of a childhood will remember that great pause in our lives, the deep breath taken between outgrowing the familiar and getting to know the unknown. It’s well written, quirky, and moves well – all things that are important for Leitch’s target audience. And Temples rides the balance between thinking smart and acting, well, like every jock you’ve ever known. It’s believable.

Perhaps, a little too believable – there are moments of naiveté that his wired, connected teenage audience might find a stretch. Temples knows who 50 Cent is, and doesn’t know about roadies? He watches sports religiously but doesn’t know that there are people of Indian and Asian origin that grew up in the states? Perhaps Leitch is applying a little more nostalgia than reality to his picture of small-town life, even before the Wal-Marts and the satellite dishes moved in. It may be small town life, but it’s also 2005, and even his small-town character would feasibly know how to use a computer. Then again, I’m a New Yorker who’s always been an urbanite, perhaps I’m wrong. But considering an urban audience of New York teens, I find the moments of naiveté to distract from Temples' character. They seem to exist to pinpoint and qualify that small-town life, which Leitch doesn’t need to underline that much – he’s got that down cold, too.

Leitch’s affection for his hometown, Mattoon, is nicely layered with Temples’ need to stretch his wings past the home hearth. The novel is marketed under that murky (but lucrative) banner of Young Adult that makes it so easy for us regular adults to shy away from it, often needlessly. Phillip Pullman’s brilliant trilogy, His Dark Materials, is classified as Young Adult, as are The Narnia Chronicles and The Lord of the Rings but you wouldn’t have a hard time finding full-fledged adults devouring and enjoying these novels. All told, like those celebrated series, Leitch’s Catch is more like a regular book with a young adult character, and more than enjoyable enough for an adult audience. Leitch writes like he wants both his friends and his younger siblings to get into the book.

The closer his readers are to the age of his characters, the more likely they are to recognize that yearning to break out, move on, try something new. Leitch’s older readers will recognize something equally important to Temples’ development as a character, and as a young adult – the nostalgia for home will only grow, the further away from the nest he moves. Much like, well, Leitch’s, for his own Mattoon.

Coming up to the holidays, too, it’s an excellent book to give as a gift to any teenager on the cusp of college, or any college student on the cusp of that strange beast, the real world. And considering Leitch’s popularity as a New Yorker (and a Gawker, a Black Table editor, and as the founder of his own reading series), it’s a good time for this particularly good young adult novel. His peers are just young enough that Temples’ maturing process isn’t such a distant memory. And his peers, as New Yorkers, overwhelmingly came from somewhere else, too. Perhaps somewhere like Mattoon. And perhaps, if we aren’t all a little like Tim Temples, we at least knew that guy.