Joseph Wallace’s novel, Diamond Ruby, was published in May of 2010 and is 459 pages. It was a nominee for Goodreads Best of 2010 Historical Fiction and it was an Indiebound Next Pick. I purchased a signed copy from Joe’s local indie bookseller, The Village Bookstore in Pleasantville, N.Y., in support of #IndieThursday on Twitter, and after finishing it, I am so happy to have my own signed copy for my bookshelf. I absolutely loved it.
Set in the twenties in New York City, Diamond Ruby is the story of a young woman thrust into the role of caregiver for her family after the devastating Spanish influenza epidemic. With a combination of fierce love for her nieces, stubbornness, and a baseball pitch as good as any Major League player, Ruby manages to take care of her family, shatter stereotypes, and inspire suffragists by playing in an all male league.
It doesn’t take long, however, for predators from the KKK, to Prohibition rumrunners, to gangsters to figure out how to exploit Ruby’s vulnerability. With the help of her family, her friends, and Babe Ruth himself, however, Ruby becomes a formidable force for more than just the opposing teams.
Diamond Ruby is an excellent period piece. Wallace brilliantly balances history and prose, and connects his readers to the time by involving his characters in the events of historical importance. While I had a surface knowledge of the Spanish influenze epidemic, I had no idea how quickly it destroyed those who caught it. I was fascinated to learn about the beginnings of the Coney Island Boardwalk, disturbed to read about the prevalence of the KKK in New York at the time, and amazed that I’d never realized how vulnerable sports players could be to gambling and illegal activity.
Diamond Ruby is one of the few books where the light at the end of the tunnel is impossible to see and the ending, equally impossible to guess. The suspense and narrative tensions reach full throttle by the last third of the book, and readers will be unable to put it down. I don’t want to reveal anything to you about the ending of Diamond Ruby, but you should know that I laughed, I cried, and I cheered.
Inspired by the true story of Jackie Mitchell–the girl who struck out Babe Ruth–Diamond Ruby is a fine piece of historical fiction by a fine writer. I give this book my highest recommendation.