46 pages 1 hour read

Phil Bildner

A High Five for Glenn Burke

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

A High Five for Glenn Burke (2020) is a middle-grade novel by American writer and teacher Phil Bildner. Bildner, who is gay, describes the novel on his website as “the most personal book I’ve ever written” (“A High Five for Glenn Burke.” philbildner.com). A High Five for Glenn Burke is a coming-of-age story about Silas Wade, a sixth-grade boy who loves baseball. When Silas realizes that he is gay, he worries about how he will be able to fit in with his teammates and find acceptance in the world of sports. He connects to the story of Glenn Burke, the first Major League Baseball player to come out as gay and the inventor of the high five.

The novel received the 2020 Chicago Public Library Best Fiction for Older Readers award, the 2021 Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Children’s Literature, and the 2021 Bank Street College of Education Best Book award, among others.

This guide uses the Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers 2020 e-book edition of A High Five for Glenn Burke.

Content Warning: This book and this guide contain discussions of anti-gay bias and discrimination. The book uses an anti-gay slur, which this guide obscures.

Plot Summary

Silas Wade, a sixth-grade American boy, is about to give a presentation in his English Language Arts class. His teacher, the theatrical Ms. Washington, has asked each student to put together a presentation on a notable inventor from history. Silas’s presentation is about Glenn Burke, a baseball player widely credited with inventing the high five. Unbeknownst to anyone, Silas chose Burke for his presentation not just because he loves baseball, but because Burke was gay. Silas knows that he is also gay, but he has not yet told anyone.

On the weekend, Silas’s baseball team, the Renegades, play a game. They taunt the other team. Their coach, Webb, disapproves. The Renegades win the game. Silas comes alive when he plays baseball, but his home life is chaotic. Both of his parents are constantly working. Silas also has two younger sisters: Haley, who does gymnastics, and Semaj, a four-year-old with an unspecified disability requiring medication and occupational therapy. Silas’s parents rarely have time for him and barely speak to each other.

Silas attends baseball practice wearing his uniform upside down and backwards. He often tries to make his teammates laugh with silly schemes. Silas’s teammates, including Malik, the object of Silas’s affections, love his costume. Coach Webb asks the boys to stop using a taunt for the other team that is intended innocently but could appear racist.

On Wednesday, Silas goes to his best friend Zoey’s house to hang out and sing karaoke. After a few false starts, he tells her that he is gay. Although she is outwardly supportive, Silas can tell that Zoey is uncomfortable. She promises not to tell anyone. At his next baseball game, Silas feels elated, like a weight has been lifted off his shoulders now that his secret is not only his to keep. Again, the Renegades win.

Zoey’s older sister, Grace, works as a costumer at a local theater. She lends Silas the costumes worn by the characters in The Sandlot, a movie about baseball and Silas’s favorite. He brings the costumes to baseball practice and puts on a Sandlot fashion show, asking his teammates to guess which costume belongs to which character. Although everyone is having a good time, two of the boys on the team tease Silas, telling him that the fashion show is “so gay.” Although he has heard such taunts before, the incident upsets Silas. He goes to Zoey’s house and reluctantly tells her what happened. They discuss her upcoming robotics competition.

After another practice, Silas plays catch with Coach Webb while he waits for his father to pick him up. Despite his trepidation, he tells Webb that he is gay and talks to him about Glenn Burke. Webb is supportive and also promises not to tell anyone, though he does want to make baseball practice a safer environment for Silas. The Renegades go to an indoor trampoline park together. Coach Webb tells the team that using “gay” as a pejorative will no longer be acceptable. Noles, one of the assistant coaches, objects, claiming that Webb is being needlessly political when he should just let the boys be. Noles quits coaching and pulls his son off the team.

The boys try to figure out who complained to Webb about their use of the word “gay.” They suspect Silas since he was the target of the teasing at the fashion show. Panicked, Silas claims that Zoey is his girlfriend. He talks disrespectfully about her in an effort to impress his teammates. He attends a local theater show that Grace worked on with his mother, Haley, and Zoey. Zoey pulls him aside and confronts him about what he told his teammates about her: She is in the same robotics club as one of his teammates, so she knows what he said. She tells him that she hates him and no longer wishes to be friends. Silas is horrified.

There is an important baseball tournament that weekend. Silas plays very poorly, feeling sluggish, worried, and sad about everything that has happened. His team loses all three games. His teammates, now aware that he lied about Zoey being his girlfriend, no longer trust him. At home, Silas loses his temper at his family and refuses to attend his next baseball practice. At school, Zoey refuses to speak to him. When Silas does return to baseball, he learns that Malik’s parents have also pulled him from the team; they are friends with Coach Noles. Silas is so upset that he vomits. Webb visits Silas’s house and has a heart-to-heart with him. He explains that while some people, like Noles, may never be accepting, there is still a place in baseball for people like Silas. He encourages Silas to be true to himself.

At the next practice, Silas apologizes to his teammates for lying about Zoey. He later speaks with his mother, who affirms that she will always be there for him. His teammates surprise him by dressing up as the characters from The Sandlot, a plan that Malik and Zoey devised. Silas asks his team to high five before each game in honor of Glenn Burke. He and Zoey reconcile. Silas feels ready for the next stage of his journey.

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