The Pinballs

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The Pinballs is a 1976 young adult novel by American author Betsy Byars. The story is about three foster children, Carlie, Harvey and Thomas J., who have been taken in by the Masons, a couple who have cared for many other foster children in the past and also have some personal problems. Carlie compares the children to pinballs, controlled by external forces and at the mercy of fate. It won the 1977 Josette Frank Award, the 1980 William Allen White Children's Book Award, and the 1980 California Young Reader Medal.

TV movie[edit]

In 1977, the book was made into an episode of the ABC Afterschool Special series, starring Kristy McNichol, Johnny Doran and Sparky Marcus as the three children.


Three kids by the name of Carlie, Harvey, and Thomas J. (For Jefferson) go to live at a foster home with Mr. and Mrs. Mason, an infertile couple. The Masons have been foster parents for 17 kids already. Carlie is the most outwardly hostile toward her situation and is quite skeptical about making yet another move. Her plan is to stay there until her mother and her stepfather work out their problems. Carlie has to stay there because her step dad hit her and gave her a concussion. Two other children arrive: Harvey, who has two broken legs and Thomas J. has grown up with two elderly twin sisters who found him abandoned on the front of their farmhouse when he was two years old. The twins are now both in the hospital. Thomas J. isn't unhappy about his situation, but hasn't learned how to express himself. He gets help from Mr. Mason. Harvey is very unhappy and needs the others badly, although he has trouble admitting that. Eventually he confesses that his father accidentally ran over his legs with his car when he was drunk even though he originally told everyone he was a quarterback and his legs were broken playing football. He argues with his dad about his mother, who lives in a commune. His father denies that she ever wrote back to Harvey. Harvey has a habit of making lists of the things that bother him. Carlie at first feels neglected. She thinks about running away, but slowly changes her mind. Carlie makes the decision to take her fate in her own hands, and stop being a defenseless pinball. When Harvey is in the hospital, Carlie, and Thomas J. gave him a puppy for his birthday, which gets him through the pain. Carlie determines that they are not pinballs, because pinballs can't control where they are going, and these children can. All three children start to take control of their lives.

Preceded by
Summer of the Monkeys
Winner of the
William Allen White Children's Book Award

Succeeded by
The Great Gilly Hopkins