WHAT'S IN A NAME?

In ten interrelated short stories, Wittlinger (Hard Love, p. 971, etc.) catches teenagers seeking self-identity in a small Massachusetts town that is engaged in a similar process. With the exception of O’Neill, who clicks into place when he allows himself to realize that he’s gay, the characters are defined by either their backgrounds, peer roles, or single parents: Ricardo is a puzzled, amused exchange student from Brazil; Nadia, a Russian immigrant in a self-imposed but increasingly fragile shell of isolation; Shaquanda buses in daily from her inner- city neighborhood; Quincy’s the jock; Adam, the new kid, etc. Wittlinger gives them touches of individuality, but they stay close to type, innocent of malice, sex, or (with the exception of Shaquanda) substance abuse—their idea of rebellion is picking an unexpected college—but they do all move in promising directions. The stories are linked by one pushy mother’s divisive campaign to change the town’s name from Scrub Harbor to the more gentrified Folly Bay, but Wittlinger, focused on her characters, allows that plot line to fizzle out. Although it’s low on surprises, this gallery of clean-cut high schoolers does offer a hopeful view of youth on the way to adulthood. (Short stories. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-82551-X

Page Count: 146

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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