Books by Joyce Sweeney

THE GUARDIAN by Joyce Sweeney
FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: April 1, 2009

This fast-paced family drama will appeal to fans of The Rules of Survival (2006) by Nancy Werlin and The Compound (2008) by S.A. Bodeen. Thirteen-year-old Hunter feels utterly alone in a foster home, where his three "sisters" undermine his efforts to stay out of trouble and his greedy, cruel foster mother Stephanie blames him for everything. When the arrival of a motorcycle-riding stranger coincides with an unusual run of good luck for Hunter, he is tempted to believe that the man is a supernatural guardian angel sent to save him from his unhappy circumstances. But the reality is that the man is his biological father, an ex-con who wants his son back by any means necessary. In a particularly harrowing climax, the man violently confronts Stephanie and kidnaps Hunter. Terrified of being returned to his old life but unsure of his new one, Hunter has to decide if he can live with the consequences of his father's morally ambiguous actions. Suspenseful and unexpectedly tender, this short, action-packed thriller will be an easy sell to reluctant readers. (Thriller. 13 & up) Read full book review >
HEADLOCK by Joyce Sweeney
FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: Oct. 1, 2006

A would-be WWE wrestler finds that having the moves may not be enough. His mother abandoned him as a baby, and Kyle has spent his entire life feeling invisible despite the love grandmother Chantal lavishes on him. Professional wrestling is his dream, and when he joins the Fort Knocks school, it looks like he might succeed, as well as win the heart of older (and somewhat damaged) fellow wrestler Ophelia. When Chantal begins to fail (stroke-induced dementia), Kyle puts his dream aside to care for her and begins to deal with the burdens of guilt and anger he feels for his mother. Despite the often fascinating WWE details, this is more problem novel than sports story and may have some trouble finding an audience. However, the straightforward plot combines with genuine emotional baggage—abandonment, alcoholism, first love and the cost of guilt and familial love—and a happy ending for a surprisingly satisfying read. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
TAKEDOWN by Joyce Sweeney
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

In this corker of a hostage drama laced with humor, 13-year-old Joe watches professional wrestling with his buddies when Charlie Dorn, a murderer on a rampage, bluffs his way into Joe's house. The seven kids deal with the problem in their own ways, revealing strengths and weaknesses in their personalities, while Joe does his best to keep the situation calm. He thinks he's being weak to go along with Dorn's demands, and finally turns to a fantasy about his hero, aging wrester Jack Shine. During the final struggle, the fantasy Shine guides Joe through every move. Sweeney keeps the situation as light as possible by focusing often on the quirks of adolescents and their problems. Eventually this becomes a story about heroes, and why both Joe and Shine qualify for the title. Engaging, witty, sometimes insightful, and always full of suspense, Sweeney hits her target. (Fiction. 9-14)Read full book review >
WAITING FOR JUNE by Joyce Sweeney
FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: Oct. 1, 2003

Narrator Sophie, a high-school senior, is in the third trimester of her pregnancy in this uneven story that blends magical realism and serious problems. Strange dreams of whales haunt her, not just at night, but during the day. Meanwhile, she argues with her increasingly cold mother, who is unhappy about the pregnancy, and defends herself against hostile fellow students. Why Sophie has so few friends, a recurring theme, is never clear. Add to this threatening anonymous notes, Sophie's unwillingness to name her baby's father, and the mystery of who her own father is, and the result is too many disparate elements. However, Sophie comes across as a compelling character, and the unsolved mysteries will probably keep readers interested all the way to the happy, if overly optimistic, end. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
PLAYERS by Joyce Sweeney
FICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

Sports are a metaphor for life in Sweeney's outing (Spirit Window, 1998, etc.) where naïveté and trust meet up with unbridled ambition. Expectations are high for Corey's basketball team to win the title, but they need one more player in their starting line-up. Noah is new, from Georgia and suspected of racism by the black players. He's got such a good outside shot that Corey swings the whole team—except best friend Luke—into voting him in. High-school sports throughout the country vary somewhat, but few coaches would be so willing to pass such control to players, and this coach is one smart cookie. Gulp that implausibility and the access players have at half-time to kids not on the team and you're off. There's just enough play-by-play basketball to satisfy sports enthusiasts, but the emphasis is on Corey's education via the dirty work Noah is willing to dish out to not only play, but also to play first string and his preferred position, center. Corey has two sisters, one younger, vulnerable, and wise beyond her years, the other shortly to be married, and totally self-centered, but not as Machiavellian as Noah. The parents, as in most YA novels, are mostly invisible, and the romantic entanglements serve to complicate the friction surrounding who plays and who doesn't, but never demand the spotlight. Characters are appealing and less one-dimensional than in typical sports fare. Everything happens quickly and the message is valuable, if occasionally less than subtle. Kids who have played on teams will enjoy exploring the complexities of team dynamics, and basketball enthusiasts will simply lap this one up. (Fiction. 12-14)Read full book review >
THE SPIRIT WINDOW by Joyce Sweeney
FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: April 1, 1998

Lost tempers and conflicting loyalties color this bitter story of a family divided over the fate of a tract of Florida land. Miranda, 15, doesn't know why her father, Richard, and her grandmother, Lila, haven't spoken for years; she finds out when Lila, after a heart attack, invites Richard down to Turtle Island. The rift came when Richard promised to sell the land, upon inheriting it, to Skip Wilson, his closest childhood friend and a real-estate developer. Lila is a brisk and cheery old woman, looking decades younger than her age, and with an intimate knowledge of the local wildlife. Miranda is quickly won over, both by Lila and by the swamp's bird life and other beauties- -including Lila's handsome young half-Cherokee gardener, Adam. An avid photographer with sharp powers of observation, Miranda is a complex, believably developed teenager, but Sweeney (Free Fall, 1996, etc.) makes Richard the central character: He's a psychiatrist with a gift for alienating everyone he loves, responsible for nearly all the conflict, and, judging by the ferocity of his mood swings and tantrums, the one who feels his own failures most keenly. When Lila dies of a second heart attack and in her videotaped will entrusts the swamp to Adam, whom she knows will preserve it, Richard is torn between fighting for the property, or salvaging his remaining family relationships. After all the heartache, misunderstanding, and regrets, readers will be more exhausted than cheered by his choice. A novel of fierce emotions, credibly brewed. (Fiction. 12-15) Read full book review >
FREE FALL by Joyce Sweeney
FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

Four teenagers lost in a Florida cave for 24 hours spill their souls in this wordy, unevenly paced adventure. Off with his best friend, Randy, to explore a reported cave in the nearby national forest, Neil grudgingly allows his brother, David, and David's best friend, Terry, to tag along. They don't know what they're doing—Terry doesn't even bring a flashlight—and are soon lost, with scant supplies and no idea what to do next. From the beginning, it's obvious that no one (reader included) is going to have any fun; David and Randy have uncontrollable tempers and are at each other's throats from the first scene, Terry whines that they should never have let a jerk like him come along, and Neil hides his claustrophobia behind a cold, silent facade. All four eventually divulge secrets, but the revelations are either anticlimactic or undeveloped tangents. The characters speak in either sour-sounding put-downs or artificially coherent psychological insights, and aside from a sudden encounter with a rattlesnake there's little action or dramatic tension in the plot until the climax. In the end, Neil learns how to be more open about his feelings, and David, in convenient atonement for the fire he caused two years ago that resulted in the death of their younger sister, gets to rescue everyone. More confessional fiction than a survival story, this is likely to disappoint readers expecting another riveter like Sweeney's Shadow (1994). (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
THE TIGER ORCHARD by Joyce Sweeney
FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Released: May 1, 1993

Zachary believes his father has been dead since he was five; like younger brother Joshua, he recognizes that his mother has done an admirable job of raising them. Then an art class assignment and sessions with his psychologist bring him close to the source of nightmares he's been having. Suddenly, Zack recalls events of 13 years ago and learns that his father's ``death'' (i.e., disappearance from their lives) was part of a bizarre divorce settlement. He and his father, a moderately successful painter, happily reunite while Zack takes the first steps toward independence from his domineering mother. It's disappointing when both Joshua and his mother blot out the truth with little more than angry shrugs, but Sweeney handles the melodrama with ease, creating characters and emotions worthy of the explosive passions that resulted in Zack's dilemma. Not all is tidily resolved, nor should it be; most memorable is a scene when a five-year-old Zack and his father made an aborted attempt to run away from home. A study in paternal love and good intentions gone awry, in a story of YA angst transcended. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
PIANO MAN by Joyce Sweeney
FICTION
Released: May 1, 1992

In a variegated tapestry of relationships, Deidre Holland—who at 14 has never even been alone on a date—confuses fantasy with reality when she's attracted to a 26-year-old man. Transported by the ``curiously thrilling'' music emanating from the apartment overhead, Deidre is soon enchanted by its composer as well; convinced that she alone understands Jeff and his music, she creates bold strategies to win his love. Also eager to explore the unknown are Deidre's cousin Susie, dating the unpredictable, troubled Curt; and Deidre's mother, preoccupied with her first romantic involvement since her husband's death 12 years ago. Mrs. Holland's frequent absences provide opportunities for Deidre to visit Jeff and, during one intricately planned weekend, for both cousins to indulge their fantasies—until reality shatters their illusions. Sweeney astutely conveys Deidre's self-conscious and easily aroused erotic sensibilities, while deft dialogue, willing players, and plausible events illustrate the physical and emotional dangers of acting out fantasies, however innocent. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >