DIVE

PLB 0-7868-2389-5 From Griffin (The Other Shepards, 1998, etc.), a poignant, perceptive tale of a teenager on a self-destructive spiral, seen through the eyes of his younger, more grounded stepbrother. Written as a monologue Ben addresses to his older stepbrother Dustin (“I never met anyone with less need for people than you, but not needing isn’t the same as not touching”), the story develops around the last time the two boys meet, in a hospital room after Dustin’s latest semi-intentional accident, and concludes with a memorial after Dustin ends his life. Through Ben’s second-person narration, readers learn how Dustin never recovered from his mother’s death from cancer, and how he behaved with unalloyed hostility when his father, Lyle, met and married Gina, mother of Ben. Gina, ever-restless and irresponsible, eventually moves on, and Dustin is the one who follows her across the country, while Ben stays behind, more comfortable with Lyle’s roots and boundaries. Ben comes off as a sharp, strong-minded observer, aware of what makes the people around him tick, and with a gift for pinpointing the traits and attitudes on which relationships are founded or founder. Thoughtful readers will appreciate his insight, enjoy the ringside seat as restrained, rational Lyle meets Mallory, a flamboyant, take-charge TV personality, and come to understand both the dangers and the appeal of Dustin’s choices. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7868-0440-8

Page Count: 159

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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MULTIPLE CHOICE

A teenager concocts a risky private game that almost leads to tragedy in this character portrait of a borderline obsessive-compulsive from Tashjian (Tru Confessions, 1997). Weary of incessant worrying, regrets, and mental instant replays, Monica tries a distraction; drawing on her fondness for anagrams and other wordplay, she performs an act either a) normal, b) silly, c) mean, or d) sacrificial, depending on which of four Scrabble letters she draws. Repeated drawings lead to several good deeds, which are more than balanced out by embarrassing or painful ones. Soon Monica has made herself wear pajamas to school, give away her prized kaleidoscope, alienate her best friend, and, after locking Justin, the preschooler she babysits, in his room, driven him to jump from a window and scratch his cornea. Monica comes off more as a born fretter than someone with an actual disorder, so her desperation seems overdone; the game appears less a compulsion than a bad decision that gets out of hand. Still, readers will feel Monica’s thrill when she takes charge, and also, with uncommon sharpness, her bitter remorse after Justin’s accident. Once Monica’s secret is out, Tashjian surrounds her with caring adults and, turning her penchant for self-analysis in more constructive directions, leads her to the liberating insight that she’s been taking herself too seriously. As a light study in how self-absorption can sometimes help as well as hurt, Multiple Choice is a fitting choice. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-6086-3

Page Count: 186

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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