Books by Jr. Coles

Released: June 1, 2001

In 1902, Katherine Soffel, wife of a prison warden, became the talk of Pittsburgh when she helped a convicted murderer and his brother escape and ran away with them. Some may know this story from the film Mrs. Soffel from the 1980s. The intrigue of the case is kept alive in Coles's (Another Kind of Monday, 1996, etc.) latest. After winning an award for a term paper on the Soffel scandal, Dee Armstrong, a college freshman, submits a copy to prominent television journalist, Harriet "Harry" Bromfield, who recently completed her own investigation of the case. Harry befriends Dee and asks her help in recovering Katherine Soffel's secret diary, which may hold the truth about what really happened a century ago. To do this, Dee must, in turn, befriend Jury Hammond, Soffel's sole remaining heir, who is also trying to locate the diary and who can provide her clues. As Harry and Dee plot to deceive Jury, Dee eventually discovers that she, too, has been manipulated. Although some characters come across as stereotypical, particularly at the end of the novel, they are balanced by Dee's fascinating investigative reporting in which she learns how the media in Soffel's time twisted the facts, devises her own conspiracy theories, and ultimately uncovers Soffel's hidden grave. Readers who like action will be disappointed, but readers who like historical fiction, mystery, and investigative journalism will be enthralled. (author's note) (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1996

In this arty, open-ended tale, Coles (with Stephen Schwandt, Funnybone, 1992) writes notes to his own characters, leading them on a treasure hunt through Pittsburgh's history as well as some of its unsavory neighborhoods. In an old library copy of Dickens's Great Expectations, high school senior Mark Bettors finds three crisp $100 bills and a letter that, in grandiloquent, allusion-spattered language, invites him to undertake a quest for a great, though unspecified, reward. For his one companion, he chooses Zeena Curry, a classmate with a white father, a black mother, and a big chip on her shoulder. Except that they are both rude, disagreeable sorts (especially to their parents), the two seem to have little in common, but they make the effort to work together, in the library (Mark ``hated librarians. They always acted like you were stupid for not knowing things'') and at a series of historical sites. Predictably, Mark and Zeena become close; they learn in a final letter that their treasure is the realization that everyone has a personal, self- created story. Students of Pittsburgh's past might enjoy the itinerary, but many books—Julian Thompson's Herb Seasoning (1990) among them—take lighter, more imaginative routes to that pot of gold. (Fiction. 12-15) Read full book review >
FUNNYBONE by Jr. Coles
Released: March 1, 1992

Walt Broughton suddenly drops out of college and loses contact with friends and family (except for a few enigmatic postcards). His frantic parents hire a private investigator, but his worshipful sister Christine figures he just needs to get his head together after a disastrous senior year, in which he weathered a drug investigation, broke up with his girlfriend Kelly, and—despite star status and a scholarship offer—quit football because of injuries. In fact, those injuries led him into drug addiction, though he managed to conceal it from everyone except Kelly. She tells Christine, who stubbornly keeps silent; but when the investigator finds Walt in a halfway house several states away, the story comes out. Christine's feelings of shock and betrayal are compounded by remorse: Pranks she has played on Kelly and several teachers for fancied offenses seem vicious in retrospect, and undeserved. Realizing that Walt needs to rebuild his life without family pressure, Christine and her parents leave him be, but they begin to attend AA and NA meetings in an effort to understand what has happened to him. This thoughtful look at addiction takes has a didactic air near the end—but there's plenty of information here, plus a thematic blend that includes some contrasting responses to Walt's sudden personality change, the particular family dynamics that contribute to the events, and Christine's maturing as a result of her own experiences. (Fiction. YA) Read full book review >