Books by Catherine Dexter

DRIVING LESSONS by Catherine Dexter
FICTION
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

Mattie Lewis, 14, has been banished to South Dakota for the summer in a story that perfectly captures the voice, the thoughts, and the personality of an unhappy teenager. Mattie's mother needs time to herself to finish her master's thesis, so Mattie is shipped off to White Stone, South Dakota, a small town where Mattie's great-grandmother had lived all her life, her house now being turned into a museum by the local historical society. Mattie, who hasn't been to White Stone since she was eight, deeply resents being dumped for the summer. She suspects that a large part of her mother's desire to have the summer to herself is so she can spend as much time as possible with Henry, her serious (and to Mattie, seriously boring and annoying) boyfriend. To Mattie's surprise, she comes to enjoy the work at her great-grandmother's house and enjoys digging around in her family's past. Also, much to her amazement and delight, Mattie has her first real relationship with a boy. Although she feels uncomfortable with the local kids to whom she's been introduced, she has an immediate bond with Lester, 17, a fellow summer exile to South Dakota—in his case, as punishment for a spot of trouble involving joyriding in a car. Mattie sees the summer, and especially her relationship with Lester, as a chance to reinvent herself. Instead of being the good girl who dutifully does as she's told, maybe for once, it will be Mattie who breaks the rules and gets into trouble. " ‘I might screw up this summer,' Mattie said, suddenly inspired. ‘If I'm here long enough.' " The joys and pains of teenage romance are realistically and honestly described and the author accurately captures the ambivalent nature of the relationship between a mother and her adolescent daughter. Here is a girl who is torn between wanting her mother to take care of her and wanting her to realize she's growing up, a captivating and charming protagonist with whom many readers will instantly identify. Beautifully written, thoroughly engaging, and very believable. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
I DREAM OF MURDER by Catherine Dexter
BEDTIME BOOK
Released: May 1, 1997

A deranged killer stalks two teenagers in this unvarnished thriller from Dexter (Alien Game, 1995, etc.). Out with his flaky friend, Avery, Jere gets a glimpse of a strange zoo employee, but it's enough to unlock a flood of fragmentary dreams and long-buried memories of an unsolved murder he witnessed ten years before. The tension mounts when the employee, Al Watkins, disappears; Jere finds evidence that the man is visiting the zoo at night, and Avery begins hearing odd noises in her building. Jere comes over to keep her company, and Watkins confronts them in the laundry room at gunpoint. Dexter's efforts to flesh out the action with subplots are only minor distractions. Shabby, threatening, always mumbling to himself, Watkins makes a thoroughly terrifying villain who will rivet readers—as will the shootout that ends the climactic standoff. Fans of Joan Lowery Nixon's suspense novels will relish this pulse-pounder. (Fiction. 10-12) Read full book review >
SAFE RETURN by Catherine Dexter
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

When an epidemic fever hits Stockholm in the early 1800s, Ursula's parents succumb. Her aunt and uncle, living on the island of Gotland across the Baltic Sea, welcome her and she soon adjusts to her new life, although the loss of her parents is always with her. When Aunt Dana makes her annual October sailing trip to Stockholm to sell the sweaters she has knitted during the year, Ursula is terrified that the Galatina will be lost in an early storm. Vicious storms strike in November, destroying a ship just outside Gotland's harbor. It's not the Galatina, but the rescued crew reports that Aunt Dana's ship left a week before theirs did. As weeks go by with no word, Ursula's hopes wane. The only person on the island who can't knit, Ursula tries to make mittens in a difficult pattern called ``safe return'' that is supposed to bring good fortune. The first mitten is completed and the Galatina sails into the harbor. In this short but stirring book, Dexter (A is for Apple, W is for Witch, p. 687, etc.) evokes with feeling a simpler way of life. Particularly poignant is the effect Ursula's hopes has on others—she brings genuine pain to those who have given up and are ready to mourn; tension builds in each scene as her determined wishes come up against the ostensibly more realistic views of everyone else. The happy ending becomes as much a relief for readers as it is for the characters living it. A memorable story. (Fiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
A IS FOR APPLE, W IS FOR WITCH by Catherine Dexter
CHILDREN'S
Released: July 1, 1996

Solid middle-grade fare. Ten-year-old Apple Olson is particularly sensitive when Barnaby Thompson calls her mother a witch, because it happens to be true. She's a good witch, though, whose tricks include turning the rice crackers in Apple's lunch into oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies. She's absolutely adamant that she won't share any of her sorcery with Apple for another six years. But Barnaby requires special treatment, and when Apple overhears a spell, one thing leads to another until, ``Ribbetty, rabbitty, rug,/Turn Barnaby into a slug.'' Only then does Apple understand her mother's caution regarding spells—they're easy to cast and the consequences are tricky. This well-paced tale is not entirely seamless, but the characterizations are good and tension builds as Apple's efforts to untangle her situation only make it worse. Highly detailed, comic black-and-white pictures throughout add to the fun. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
ALIEN GAME by Catherine Dexter
FICTION
Released: May 1, 1995

Toward the end of the school year everyone at Oak Hill Academy becomes involved in a complex, week-long game called Elimination. The object is for each participant to ``kill'' as many of the others as possible by tagging them, until the sole survivor becomes the winner. Eighth-grader Zoe is not fond of the game and likes it even less when new student Christina joins in and subtly begins to alter the rules. Soon it becomes evident to Zoe that some things about the new girl are very strange, e.g., the way parts of her body turn into areas of shimmering light, her powerful influence on the younger students (who become veritable zombies after Christina tags them), and her effect on Zoe's own classmates, who become violently ill when tagged. No one believes Zoe's concerns until teachers begin to disappear, but by then it's too late. Zoe plays the deadly game against Christina—but can anyone really win? Dexter (The Gilded Cat, 1992, etc.) creates vivid characters and places them in a situation fraught with danger and dread; there is no letup in this page-turner until the final confrontation between the two girls. The resolution is both unexpected and wholly rewarding. A real winner. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
THE GILDED CAT by Catherine Dexter
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 23, 1992

A small, catlike figurine that Maggie picks up at a Boston yard sale turns out to be the mummy of a Pharaoh's prized pet—and the Pharaoh wants it back. Whether he appears as the ghost of a boy or as a small ka-bird with a human head, Thutmose the Utmost is more startling than scary—indeed, he's rather whiny, and has hung around for so many years because he's too cowardly to face the trials and gods of the Egyptian Underworld. The plot thickens when Maggie encounters Thutmose's uncle Seth, an evil magician who—not content with having killed his nephew originally—has pursued his spirit down the centuries to destroy it as well. Dexter's loosely constructed storyline is replete with contrivance and labored subplots, but also contains some wonderfully weird moments: Maggie and a friend board a bus to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, but instead it takes them to a decayed neighborhood that they come to realize is the Underworld; later, the climax opens with Maggie and her younger brother alone in a house suddenly awash with scorpions. An intriguing, if uneven, ghost story from the author of The Oracle Doll (1985). (Fiction. 11-14) Read full book review >
MAZEMAKER by Catherine Dexter
Released: April 18, 1989

Her mother and stepfather are preoccupied with a new baby, and there's nowhere to play in her crowded, graffiti-marked neighborhood, so Winnie (12) is at loose ends—till a mysterious maze appears outlined on a local playground/teen-hangout and she observes a cat disappear at its center. Herself a maze enthusiast, Winnie is intrigued; she dares to follow the cat's example and finds herself transported back 100 years—and hospitably taken in at the mansion that will be a nursing home in her 1989 neighborhood. Lily, a girl her age, is willing to believe Winnie's story; the maze is feared and avoided in the 19th century, though some people wish to make use of its power. Winnie becomes involved with these long-ago people; more important, she realizes how much she wants to go home, which she finally succeeds in doing. Once back, she is able to track down the mazemaker—a 17th-century man who had escaped a dire fate through the maze—and send him back to the 19th century, where he was loved and needed. Later, Winnie learns more in local historical archives, where she discovers a letter to her from Lily. Overlong, the novel drags a bit, and there are loose ends that serve no thematic purpose—e.g., why Winnie's mother refuses to discuss Winnie's dead father. However, the palpable sense of place (in both centuries), Winnie's believable reactions, and the intriguing device of the maze all contribute to making this enjoyable. Read full book review >