FREE RADICAL by Claire Rudolf Murphy


Age Range: 11 - 15
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“Alaska is a great place to hide,” and Luke McHenry’s mother has been hiding there for 31 years. She has hidden her own identity, she has hidden the facts of Luke’s identity, and she has hidden from the consequences of one reckless act so many years before. But as Faith McHenry says, “By hiding all these years, I avoided one prison and created another.” Never able to hide from the guilt she feels for a death she caused during an anti-war protest in 1970, Faith, really Mary Margaret Cunningham, goes back to California to turn herself in and face the jail time she knows she deserves. It is not a surprise who Faith McHenry really is, and that is not the point. This is a well-written, compelling story of guilt, justice, identity, forgiveness, coming of age, and coming to terms. The author does an excellent job of peeling back the layers of consequences and the need for forgiveness that one reckless act carries in its wake. Secondary characters are drawn well, and Luke’s voice rings true. The whole novel is a play on the term “free radical,” defined as “cell-destroying oxidizers” that eat away at our bodies and drag us down, akin to Mary Margaret’s guilt. The novel closes with a brilliant metaphor for how Luke manages his crisis of identity. He realizes he is like the sandhill cranes flying overhead in a V formation, the leaders switching position from time to time. “Once when I was little, Mom had told me, ‘That’s how they survive. They take turns flying into the wind.’ ” Luke sees that it’s his turn now to fly into the wind, and he is doing it with the help of friends and family. An excellent angle on the Vietnam War and its legacy. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: March 18th, 2002
ISBN: 0-618-11134-4
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Clarion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2002


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