Klass (Screen Test, 1997, etc.) has woven a captivating first-person narrative with an original voice. John is convinced that no one knows him. Not his kind-of-friends, not the teachers in his "anti-school" ("School is for learning and this place is for being stupid"), and certainly not his mother, who just might marry this boyfriend, the one that beats him when she isn't looking. John's piercingly funny narrative describes his days in his torturous algebra class ("I hear nothing. The sound waves part before they get to me and re-form when they have passed me by. Algebra does not have the power to penetrate my feverish isolation"), his okay music class ("To my surprise, the giant frog who is pretending to be my tuba suddenly comes very much to life"), a disastrous date with the much-sought-after Gloria ("Glory Hallelujah"), and the nightmare of being left alone with his soon-to-be stepfather while his mother is away. His humor stems from boredom, intense loneliness, and fear, and his story keeps the reader both howling with laughter and petrified. His narrative has a consistently narrow view, taking the reader through his twisted thoughts and emotions, while letting enough trickle through so that readers can see more than he does. Thankfully, of course, someone does know John, and steps up to save him. His mother (to whom the narrative is addressed) is never quite fleshed out as a character. Perhaps this is because John feels so keenly ignored by her, yet it makes her entrance at the end feel thin. Nevertheless, this is an engrossing story, in the vein of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (1999), to which readers will immediately connect. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-38706-0

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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Garden (Good Moon Rising, 1996, etc.) returns to territory she’s staked out in previous novels for this drawn-out tale of gay teenagers caught in a small town conservative backlash. As Jamie watches her long-time friend Terry move into a relationship that is effectively pulling him out of the closet, she develops a powerful yen for straight-but-accepting newcomer Tessa. Meanwhile, backed by a shadowy national organization, community activist Lisa Buel gets herself elected to the school board and immediately launches a campaign against the new sex-ed curriculum, the availability of condoms at the high school, and the liberal stance of the school’s paper, of which Jamie is editor-in-chief. The cast is composed of types, modeling behavior and expressing a range of attitudes; with frequent stops for newspaper editorials, prolonged conversations, and indignant speeches, the plot moves past various confrontations, a book-burning, hate mail, and a near- riot at school to an eventual uneasy peace. By the end, the gay teens have earned a measure of acceptance and Buel is handily defeated in a follow-up election, but the school newspaper is shut down for the year, and all health classes are turned—temporarily—into study halls. Garden makes a game if unsuccessful effort to create an evenhanded liberal/conservative dialogue, but the characters’ mercurial love lives and their searches for identity will provide the book’s chief draws. (Fiction. 13-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-38667-6

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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