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Tessa, 15, has always wished for a different kind of father, perhaps one more like Atticus Finch, the wise figure in To Kill a Mockingbird. Her father, an overworked surgeon, volunteers to go to Vietnam and returns on medical discharge in a fragile mental state. En route to a new job, he and Tess end up at the home of his older, maternalistic sister, Treena, while Tess's mother, a nurse, remains behind to care for a friend who is in her last weeks of a faltering pregnancy. With her concern for her father, Tess juggles more typical teenager interests--her obsession with smooth-talking Caleb, and her friendship with Selina, who believes that Caleb is dangerously untrustworthy. Marino (The Mona Lisa of Salem Street, 1995, etc.) leaves out the atmospheric details of the late 1960s and strains to keep Tess's mother offstage; Tess's point of view is divided between her first-person narration and diary entries, which are often repetitive and occasionally needless. Other aspects of the story fare better: The budding love affair comes to a melodramatic end in which Tess finally sees Caleb for what he is and musters her wits to survive a frightening situation. Despite other dramatic highlights--including the revelation that Caleb, having gotten one of the postulants at a local convent pregnant, is urging her to have an abortion--Tess and Selina are mature and thoughtful characters; through them are imparted astute notions on the nature of friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
Page count: 183pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster