PLAYING WITH FIRE

Supposedly rigged séances summon a genuine Presence through the Infernal Gates in this deliciously melodramatic page-turner, set in the Roaring ’20s. Swept from their tenement room to the Long Island mansion of a wealthy Theosophist by domineering con-man Drake Morley, latest in a line of "uncles," 14-year-old Greer Duquesne and her mother, the beautiful, otherworldly fortuneteller Madame Camille, find themselves in a specially prepared room, holding hands with moneyed guests seeking contact with the Beyond—or at least an evening's amusement. Madame Camille has the right patter and a genuine sense of empathy, but it's Greer who can actually see people's auras, and whose psychic powers suddenly have her mother roaring out harsh revelations in the voice of a spirit named Merlin. With the séances beginning to bring in serious amounts of money, Greer's ambition to lead a normal, settled life looks to go glimmering, unless she can find a way to escape Drake's clutches. Karr (The Boxer, 2000, etc.) builds suspense with fine expertise, leading to a lurid climactic session that brings together Merlin, a wild storm, a power failure, a well-armed band of bootleggers, and some ugly news about Drake's past that pitches him past the brink of insanity. Readers will admire Greer for the plucky way she stands up to her mother's menacing impresario, and though the wrap-up seems too quick, the prospect of a sunnier future for Greer and her mother ends the tale on a satisfyingly rising note. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-23453-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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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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