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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SEVENTH GRADE TANGO

PLB 0-7868-2427-1 The content and concerns of Levy’s latest is at odds with the young reading level and large type size, which may prevent this novel’s natural audience of middle schoolers from finding a fast and funny read. In sixth grade, Rebecca broke her friend Scott’s toe at a dance. Now, in seventh grade, they are partners in a ballroom dance class, and they soon find they dance well together, but that makes Rebecca’s friend Samantha jealous. She gives a party during which spin-the-bottle is played, kissing Scott and then bullying him into being her boyfriend. While Rebecca deals with her mixed feelings about all this, she also has a crush on her dance instructor. Levy (My Life as a Fifth-Grade Comedian, 1997, etc.) has great comedic timing and writes with a depth of feeling to make early adolescent romantic travails engaging; she also comes through on the equally difficult feat of making ballroom dancing appealing to young teens. The obsession with kissing, pre-sexual tension, and sensuality of the dancing will be off-putting or engrossing, depending entirely on readers’ comfort levels with such conversations in real life as well as on the page. Precocious preteens will find that this humorously empathetic take on budding romance is just right. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7868-0498-X

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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