BORN IN SIN

Keisha is 14; she's smart, she works hard, and she has a really good Mama. She knows who is trouble in the projects, where she lives, and she worries about her older sister, a mother at 17. In this complicated narrative, Keisha longs to apply to a pre-med program for high-school students at a nearby college. At first she's thwarted by well-meaning, but prissy and patronizing, counselors and teachers both white and black. But when she's forced to join the summer program for "at-risk" kids, she reveals a hidden talent—she's a natural swimmer. Keisha is unsparing in her views, and the drug dealer, the good coach, the naïve best friend, and the oreo are sketched in broad strokes. Family secrets, little brothers, how the simplest of gestures can be misinterpreted in the crucible of race, and the dubious and universal teen skill of utterly misconstruing the actions of adults all play a part here. Unfortunately, much of this seems forced, as though the author wanted to include everything she could think of that would teach a lesson. This requires a plot worthy of an afternoon soap with plot devices that stretch credibility. (Could any teen become Olympics-ready in less than a summer?) Keisha moves comfortably from trash talk to Standard English, thinking of herself as bilingual. She makes hard choices and stupid mistakes, but she's a character bigger than the page; most of the other players are hardly visible when she's on stage. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-83833-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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LYDDIE

Abandoned by their mother, whose mental stability has been crumbling since her husband went west, Lyddie and her brother Charlie manage alone through a Vermont winter. But in the spring of 1844, without consulting them, the mother apprentices Charlie to a miller and hires Lyddie out to a tavern, where she is little better than a slave. Still, Lyddie is strong and indomitable, and the cook is friendly even if the mistress is cold and stern; Lyddie manages well enough until a run-in with the mistress sends her south to work in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, thus earning a better wage (in a vain hope of saving the family farm), making friends among the other girls enduring the long hours and dangerous conditions, and expanding her understanding of loyalty, generosity, and injustice (she already knows more than most people ever learn about perseverance). Knowing only her own troubled family, Lyddie is unusually reserved, even for a New Englander, With her usual discernment and consummate skill, Paterson depicts her gradually turning toward the warmth of others' kindnesses—Betsy reads Oliver Twist aloud and suggests the ultimate goal of Oberlin College; Diana teaches Lyddie to cope in the mill, setting an example that Lyddie later follows with an Irish girl who is even more naive than she had been; Quaker neighbors offer help and solace that Lyddie at first rejects out of hand. Deftly plotted and rich in incident, a well-researched picture of the period—and a memorable portrait of an untutored but intelligent young woman making her way against fierce odds.

Pub Date: March 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-525-67338-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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