HIDDEN TALENTS

An eighth grader discovers five schoolmates with psychic powers in this amateurish effort from Lubar. Martin, who was expelled from every other junior high in six counties for mouthing off, is consigned to prison-like Edgeview Alternative School, along with other violent or nerdy teens deemed hopeless misfits. While trying to avoid both the ready fists of hulking bully Lester Bloodbath and the shock therapy meted out by Principal Davis, he meets Torchy, who can start fires without matches or lighters, Cheater Woo, whose test answers are always identical to someone else’s, and several others with odd, unconscious talents. Interspersing Martin’s tediously self-analytical narrative with flat attempts at humor, trite student essays, repetitive memos to faculty, and mawkish letters from home, Lugar draws the tale to a paradoxical climax in which the self-styled “psi five” scuttle Bloodbath’s plot to close the school down, but then do their best to earn releases. After realizing that he is psychic, able to read people’s deepest fears and hopes, Martin abruptly acquires a sense of responsibility and resolves never to abuse his talent. Padded with aimless subplots and earnest efforts to drum up sympathy for the one-dimensional cast’s brutal bullies and ineffectual teachers, this contrived story is a weak alternative to Stephanie Tolan’s Welcome to the Ark (1996) or Willo Davis Roberts’s The Girl with the Silver Eyes (1980). (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-86646-1

Page Count: 213

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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THE YEAR THEY BURNED THE BOOKS

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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