THE REAPPEARANCE OF SAM WEBBER

A year in the life of a Baltimore boy provides the basis for a formidable portrait of urban American life. Eleven-year-old Sam Webber, usually known as Little Sam, abruptly becomes just plain Samuel when his father disappears without a trace. Hoping he was kidnaped (abandonment is the far more devastating, though likely, explanation), Sam is traumatized further by the move his mother’s forced to make from their pristine middle-class neighborhood to a rough area of town. A closet in their new home becomes the TV room, and Sam watches rain pour in through a leaky kitchen window. Completing the transformation of Sam’s old life to new is his attendance at an unfamiliar school full of bullies, pregnant teens, and, miraculously, Greely. A black janitor at the school, Greely notices Sam’s distress—the constant hyperventilation, the nausea, his obvious fears—and befriends the boy in a way that alters him profoundly. Greely tells Sam about the civil rights movement, tosses a football with him, takes him to the Little Tavern for burgers—in short, becomes a surrogate father. Others slowly fill the shoes Sam’s father left empty: His mother’s new boyfriend Howard, sharing comic books and companionship; and Junie and Ditch, his mother’s employers at the flower shop. In Sam’s second Baltimore, a skinned, gritty version of what he once knew, he comes into his own, no longer afraid of dirty streets or gangs of kids and slowly accepting the loss of his father as he learns to depend more on himself. Although his father never returns, others love and nurture Little Sam, leading to the emergence of a Sam who is less troubled. A warming exploration of fairly routine material, made attractive by newcomer Fuqua’s depiction of city life. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-890862-02-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bancroft Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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A celebratory song of the sea.

THE HIGHEST TIDE

A shrimpy 13-year-old with a super-sized passion for marine life comes of age during a summer of discovery on the tidal flats of Puget Sound.

Miles O’Malley—Squid Boy to his friends—doesn’t mind being short. It’s other things that keep him awake at night, like his parents’ talk of divorce and his increasingly lustful thoughts about the girl next door. Mostly, though, it’s the ocean’s siren call that steals his sleep. During one of his moonlit kayak excursions, Miles comes across the rarest sighting ever documented in the northern Pacific: the last gasp of a Giant Squid. Scientists are stunned. The media descend. As Miles continues to stumble across other oddball findings, including two invasive species that threaten the eco-balance of Puget Sound, a nearby new-age cult’s interest in Miles prompts a headline in USA Today: Kid Messiah? Soon tourists are flocking to the tidal flats, crushing crustaceans underfoot and painting their bodies with black mud. Dodging disingenuous journalists, deluded disciples and the death-throes of his parents’ marriage, Miles tries to recapture some semblance of normality. He reads up on the G-spot and the Kama Sutra to keep pace with his pals’ bull sessions about sex (hilariously contributing “advanced” details that gross the other boys out). But Miles’s aquatic observations cannot be undone, and as summer draws to a close, inhabitants of Puget Sound prepare for a national blitzkrieg of media and scientific attention and the highest tide in 40 years, all of which threatens everything Miles holds dear. On land, the rickety plot could have used some shoring up. Miles is just too resourceful for the reader to believe his happiness—or that of those he loves—is ever at stake. But when Miles is on the water, Lynch’s first novel becomes a stunning light show, both literal, during phosphorescent plankton blooms, and metaphorical, in the poetic fireworks Lynch’s prose sets off as he describes his clearly beloved Puget Sound.

A celebratory song of the sea.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2005

ISBN: 1-58234-605-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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