Books by Bruce Brooks

DOLORES by Bruce Brooks
Released: April 1, 2002

In this meticulously written short-story collection, Brooks chronicles the life of a singular young girl as she travels the rocky road from seven to sixteen. Symmetrical in that it starts out with her attempted kidnapping and ends with her attempted rape, Dolores copes with the breakup of her parents, spars with some school bullies, develops her own mode of cheerleading, bickers with her mother, and finally meets a young man worthy of her smarts and style. Articulate and opinionated, Dolores is a winning heroine, gifted with a fierce intelligence, a combative personality, and an unconventional turn of mind. Girls should admire the tough-minded Dolores, who at 12 speaks with a vocabulary and self-possession a woman of 40 could envy. And there's the rub. Although Dolores is a fetching and fascinating creation, she's such a poised and complete personality that she doesn't seem to be quite of this earth. Few sixth-grade girls would coolly ask an enemy why "instead of coming over and asking a direct question, you . . . hang back and plan campaigns of malicious rumors." Additionally, it's not clear just who the author is writing for. For example, although the story "Ladies for Lunch" is both touching and trenchant, it reads like it's a tale written for adults that just happens to have a child character in it. Still, Brooks wows the reader with his finely honed craft, piercing dry wit, and clever turn of phrase. (Fiction. 10+)Read full book review >
ALL THAT REMAINS by Bruce Brooks
Released: May 1, 2001

Grim, funny, poignant, exciting, irreverent, heartening, heartbreaking, and inescapably thought-provoking, these three stories feature teenagers helping each other over rough spots with friendship and respect. Each story begins with a death: in the first, two cousins' efforts to keep the body of their aunt, an AIDS victim, out of the state's institutional hands take macabre, hilarious turns; in the second, a jock and his orphaned, dweebish cousin beat the odds to find common ground; a trio of smart-mouthed golfers give a young woman what she needs to let go of her father—and his ashes—in the third. The voices here are distinct, the dialogue natural-sounding, and the storytelling, especially the sports action (Brooks can make even a round of golf suspenseful), superb. But what will stay longest with readers is the inner strength with which his characters face, and prove equal to, some of life's hardest tests. Great reading from a great writer. (Fiction. 11-15)Read full book review >
THROWING SMOKE by Bruce Brooks
Released: May 31, 2000

The cerebral Brooks (Vanishing, 1999, etc.) puts a characteristic spin on this Matt Christopher-style tale of a ragtag Little League team that gets some unexpected help. Coming off a 0-10 debut season, the Breadhurst Newts face a new spring still eager to play, even though, as infielder "E6" Marchant puts it, "up the middle we have severe limitations, and down the lines we are inconsistent but mostly pretty weak." Having found that working alone in a local print shop eases his frustration, pitcher Whiz Cary absent-mindedly prints up a baseball card one night describing awesome made-up fireballer "Ace Jones"—who appears on the mound in the flesh at the next practice. Whiz tries it again, creating cards for power-hitting outfielder "Diane Fuller," then infield wizards "Max and Marty Rico." Suddenly enhanced, the Newts begin not only taking leads but also actually winning. It's far from a dream team, though, as the new players barely notice the original ones, and stroll arrogantly off the field together after each game. Whiz and his buddies discover that victory doesn't have quite the expected savor. In the end, he sends the "Gang of Four" back where it came from (wherever that is—Brooks doesn't offer a suggestion), leaving readers to ponder the difference between winning at any cost and taking pleasure just in playing the game. Pushy parents and coaches might find food for thought here, too. (Fiction. 10-12)Read full book review >
VANISHING by Bruce Brooks
Released: June 30, 1999

PLB 0-06-028237-1 Framed as it largely is in conversations between two preteen hospital patients, this cerebral meditation on death and independence reads like a converted stage play. Weeks into a hunger strike, Alice floats in a hallucinatory world, emerging occasionally for her alcoholic mother's silent visits, for friendly exchanges with her shrink, Dr. Archibald, or to talk with Rex, a tough-minded victim of inoperable cancer. Living with a harsh stepfather—"he hates me, sets tests I can only flunk, and he makes me pay"—has left her subject to severe bouts of depression, and she has stopped eating not to end her life (she's very clear on this), but as a radical protest. Brooks (Each a Piece, 1998, etc.) deftly fills in a complex background, peopled by adults who have failed his protagonist in various ways, and, without forcing an agenda onto events, presents Alice with reasons to take up her life again: the strongest are her stepfather's reluctant promise to bend, and Rex's dying observation that, "all you get by giving stuff up is The Big Nothing." Rex and Alice speak with wise older voices, but thoughtful readers will glean that character and plot are less important here than the shimmering web of ideas, ironies, motives, and options they convey. (Fiction. 11-15) Read full book review >
EACH A PIECE by Bruce Brooks
Released: Oct. 31, 1998

A valentine of a picture book—his first—from Brooks (The Red Wasteland, p. 808, etc.). It's a dulcet rhyme—"A piece of the moon/a part of the sky/two words from a tune/a dog passing by," with each piece being a part of the whole. The whole, in this case, is a delicious computer-produced collage made from Victorian greeting cards, cunningly assembled and repeated. Motifs appear and re-appear: sunflowers and raspberries, doll houses and a carefully hung moon. A golden-haired girl and a boy in a red vest hold tea things or books or paints, all in a jumble of the slightly faded colors of Prang prints. "Each piece is a part/of more left to find" appears over pages with die-cut windows, in a book that, as in Istvan Banyai's works, is more enjoyable with every reading, offering up small visual gems, tricks in perspective, and very dear details. Children will find this appealing, but the book may be tucked into Christmas stockings and slipped into love letters for grown-ups as well. (Picture book. 6-10) Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 1998

Brooks (Shark, p. 493, etc.) compiles a survey of nature writers at their best and worst. Not the typical descriptive examination of the wonders of animal life, weather, plants, insects, etc., this collection seeks to expose both the arrogant thinkers of bygone years (D.C. Peattie and Arthur H. Beavey), the masters (Jean-Henri Fabre and W. H. Hudson), and the prescient observers (e.g., Rachel Carson). Brooks spotlights every writer's unique bias during this kaleidoscopic, sometimes jarring tour through the African savanna of Joanna Greenfield, the desert landscape of Edward Abbey, and the "waterland" of Graham Swift. Glances at nature, from the minuscule to the magnificent, are deepened by Brooks's introductory essays. Curiously absent is a sense of story, although "The Bat" by Theodore Roethke and "The Owl" by Randall Jarrell toss poetry into the mix, leavening a volume that is otherwise burdened by seriousness. The philosophical tone and intellectual subject matter may be in search of an audience, but some readers will treat this as a sampler before going on to some of the original sources from which these selections were culled. (Anthology. 12+) Read full book review >
SHARK by Bruce Brooks
Released: May 30, 1998

paper 0-06-440681-4 The latest installment in the thoughtful—though action-oriented—Wolfbay Wings series (Woodsie, 1997, etc.) moves away from the better members of the team to Sebastian, jokingly nicknamed Shark, one of the "Spaz Line" of players who are there to fill empty positions. His teammates have a lot of good-humored tolerance for poor players; what they won't tolerate is that Sebastian is a rapidly improving player who won't give up his safe place and give it all he's got. The intelligence that informs the book is every bit as sharp as the action: As in the previous books, Brooks combines youth-sized attitudes and thoughts with parenthetical, often more sophisticated, musings on a wide variety of related subjects. He takes for granted the nobility and honor accorded the athletes, and demonstrates an easy, impenetrable respect for readers. Unlike the other entries in the series, however, this one has more philosophizing than action, and the sentence structure can be daunting: One sentence goes for nearly a page. It's still a fast, compelling read, and several notches above anything else of its kind. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
WOODSIE by Bruce Brooks
by Bruce Brooks, illustrated by Erik Butler
Released: Oct. 30, 1997

In the first book of the promising Wolfbay Wings series, Dixon Woods is new to hockey and new to the Wings, last year's regional champs. But their old coach has left and taken the best players, without whom the remaining team members are in over their heads. Although he is blessed with good hockey sense, devotion, and an easygoing disposition, Dixon has a lot to learn. Brooks (Asylum for Nightface, 1996, etc.) delivers a live-wire sports story, with snappy kid-cool dialogue and humor that ring completely true. His knowledge and love of the sport, in all its thrilling complexity, and his respect for his audience and athletes, come through on every page; the novel is filled with hockey jargon, but is still accessible to those who are not fanatics. Wit and intelligence run as undercurrents to the game action, with a surprising ending that will have readers wild for the next installment. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: June 30, 1996

Brooks (Boys Will Be, 1993, etc.), at his most cerebral, introduces a moral puzzle in this tale of a teenager being pressured into public sainthood by his parents. With his strong faith and consuming interest in matters of the spirit, Zimmerman has become somewhat alien to his loving but agnostic parents—pot-smoking, successful professionals who occasionally throw out doubts or temptations just to see if he'll waver. He doesn't, until they come back from a vacation converted to a beach sect billed ``The Faith of Faiths'' by its charismatic founder, Luke Mark John. Suddenly, Zim is idolized, treated with dewy awe by his mother and father, who eventually let slip the news that Luke Mark John wants Zim to be ``poster boy for the Faith of Faiths,'' to lure younger members into the sect. Zim, who has shied away from organized religion to follow a solitary path, looks upon his parents' zeal with a dubious eye, meanwhile delivering keenly intelligent observations on a variety of subjects, from Jesus (``tough, compulsive, brash . . . intense to the point of being frightening, and definitely, definitely, tired'') to the dangers of accepting any opinions, even Holy Writ, uncritically. He is at last driven, rather than led, into temptation; in a desperate effort to save himself from the fate his parents have planned for him, he tries for a jail sentence, or at least some tarnish on his spotless reputation, by stealing a rare trading card. Every character here except the protagonist is a caricature, every twist of the story thoroughly laced with irony. While Brooks exhibits, as usual, that he is a born storyteller with a flair for imaginative detailing, plot takes a backseat to theme in this satiric, intellectual exercise. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1994

With the help of a cerebral and enthusiastic co-author, the New York Knicks' veteran guard reflects on life and basketball. Doc Rivers has plenty to say, about lessons learned growing up in Chicago and the importance of family and teamwork; about the dangers of easing talented young players through school; about setting high goals, working mercilessly to achieve them, and being honest with oneself. Though he tends to use superlatives (``Nobody was better at anticipating passes than Gus [Williams]'') and the kind of generalities many athletes offer the press, perceptive readers will sense a searching intelligence underlying them. There are relatively few anecdotes here; instead, brief, loosely linked chapters (similar to Brooks's Boys Will Be, 1993) capture some of the excitement of playing—and, even more vividly, of thinking- -about the game. In a foreword, Brooks mentions some favorite autobiographies of other athletes; at the end, he listens in on Rivers teaching a summer camp group the real fundamentals of basketball. Young athletes in any sport will profit from this thoughtful dialogue. B&w photo section; index. (Biography. YA) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 15, 1993

Compared to Predators! and Nature by Design (both 1991), this third in the award-winning novelist's Knowing Nature series shines; now, rather than distracting, the jocular informal tone engages and amuses, while Brooks expresses even complex ideas in a lucid, wonderfully accessible style (``Once you begin to pay attention, the natural world is suddenly a wildly noisy place, and behind each noise is intention''). He surveys the importance of the five senses to specific species—beginning with a provocative opener on ``Knowing'' and ending with a chapter (``Wholeness'') on integrating the senses—and offers many concrete facts about capabilities, interaction, and the rich diversity of adaptations. The result is an inspirational sampling of what's known (with somewhat less about how it's known), and of the ways scientists make new connections. Brooks explores the boundary between quantifiable behavior and animal feelings with intelligence, an open mind, and judicious circumspection (``dare we insist that the small finch chasing a large hawk away from its nest is not courageous...?''), and is sensitive to the ambiguity of a word like ``strange'' and the need for qualifiers like ``perhaps.'' It's a pity the information isn't sourced (there's a curious note thanking WNET's Nature for inspiration only). A fascinating introduction to an intriguing and significant topic. Excellent, well-placed color photos; useful, discursive glossary; brief index. (Nonfiction. 9+) Read full book review >
BOYS WILL BE by Bruce Brooks
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

A former boy, and now father of two more, offers some quirky essays on the inner life of the young American male, explaining why so many of them talk trash to one another, wear sports caps every waking moment, and seem unconcerned—at a certain stage—with masking body odor. Addressing both adults and young people, he assures the former that boys do read books (though they may not advertise the fact), and advises the latter on coping with a dangerous friend. As in his fiction, Brooks shows uncommon insight into what real courage, heroism, and maturity are, with tributes to Arthur Ashe and Bobby Knight; he's also entertaining, dishing up a hilarious tirade against football (``Eight Reasons Why Ice Hockey Kicks Football's Tutu'') and several outrageously sexist comments (e.g., ``Ten Things You Cannot Expect Your Mom to Come Close to Understanding''). When it comes to bullies (``They suck''), though, Brooks loses his sense of humor momentarily and offers some risky advice: ``What to do about bullies: Punch them in the nose. That's the only thing that always works for me.'' A final essay on respect caps off—without quite drawing together—this funny, thoughtful miscellany. (Nonfiction. 11+) Read full book review >
WHAT HEARTS by Bruce Brooks
Released: Oct. 30, 1992

From an outstandingly perceptive writer, a moving portrait of a boy of extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity, observed at four revealing turning points. Just out of first grade, Asa rushes triumphantly home to share the splendid radishes he has grown, but finds his parents breaking up and his mother taking him to meet antagonistic, inflexible Dave, soon to be his stepfather. Later, Asa's quick comprehension of what makes people tick, plus his well-honed manipulative skills, earn him easy acceptance in a new fourth grade but a painfully aborted relationship in seventh. Meanwhile, Dave is an unexpectedly talented coach for the sports in which Asa excels—until, overcome by his normal malice, he knocks Asa down with a hard-thrown baseball. The two also become unwilling collaborators in dealing with Asa's deeply disturbed mother. Dave—who resembles Bix's dad in The Moves Make the Man (Brooks's first, and until now best, book)—accuses Asa of being all head and no heart, but Brooks develops the subtle relationships between the two—Asa does often hide behind rationalism but also, twice, retreats compassionately from hard-won goals in order to avoid hurting a peer. A brilliant demonstration that childhood's battles are less important than what one brings to them: Bix was defined by family conflict, but Asa—possessed of a rare sweetness, humor, and inner strength—survives intact the cruel tests to his integrity, intellect, and sense of decency. (Fiction. 11-14) Read full book review >
NATURE BY DESIGN by Bruce Brooks
Released: Nov. 27, 1991

In the new ``Knowing Nature'' series, this book about animal-made structures (honeycombs, spider webs, termite, wasp, and bird nests, etc.) has eye-catching color photos; unfortunately, the text (by the author of The Moves Make the Man, 1985 Newbery Honor) is wordy, stilted, and unsatisfying. Published in association with Thirteen/WNET, the book is inspired by ``the broad spirit of inquiry and richness of detail in the Nature television series.'' Maybe so, but young enthusiasts would be better off watching the video. Brooks's prose is daunting: ``We humans have the initiative to move beyond the restrictions of our immediate environment and needs, but animals are much closer to the commandments of nature's law: the orderliness of their actions is not mitigated by the uniquely human ambition to be greater tomorrow than we are today.'' A companion book, Predators!, adds a wisecracking tone to the convoluted prose: ``In truth, humans are pretty wimpy predators.'' A disappointing misfire. Glossary; index. (Nonfiction. 10+) Read full book review >
NO KIDDING by Bruce Brooks
Released: April 30, 1989

In his third novel, Brooks (The Moves Make the Man, Newbery Honor, 1985) postulates a 21st-century society where teen-agers routinely become their parents' guardians. Most adults are now alcoholics, incapable of responsibility. Among the remainder, many are emotionally crippled members of rigid sects like the First Church of Christ, Abstemious ("Steemers"). At 14, Sam has committed his mother for rehabilitation and placed his younger brother, Ollie, for adoption with a rare nonalcoholic, non-Steemer couple. (There aren't many kids anymore; CRTs caused the birthrate to plummet.) Sam is bright and wants to care for both Mother and Ollie; he knows all the ropes and all the angles, but what he doesn't know is how to be a kid—or to be loved. When his mother gets out, he finds her a job and an apartment and tries to reunite her with Ollie. Mother, however, doesn't conform to either his preconceptions or his plan: by precipitating a second role-reversal, she forces Sam to look at commitment, childhood, and love from a startlingly new perspective. With the disarming use of familiar behavior and familiar phrases (like the title) in imaginative new contexts and juxtapositions, Brooks again surprises readers with his sparkling insights into human nature. Read full book review >