A mother’s love has not been enough to save her teenage son from increasingly delinquent behavior in this realistic young-adult novel.
In her literary debut, the author introduces 16-year-old Rodney Birge, a smart kid making a host of dumb choices. The story begins as he commits illegal acts that place him in front of a judge who will not accept the teenager’s customary rationalizations. Rodney has also exhausted the good will of his mother, who has grown weary of his manipulative, unacceptable behavior. Susan, a single parent who escaped terrible domestic abuse, still feels guilty about depriving Rodney of any relationship with his father, a weakness her son often exploits. So far, Rodney has refused to face the consequences of his actions, and Susan has constantly enabled them. But this time, with the real threat of juvenile detention hanging over him and an electronic monitor around his ankle, he reluctantly begins the process of changing his attitude and behavior. His mandatory community service at a youth center becomes much less of a punishment when his peer tutor is a blonde beauty; he rediscovers his passion for basketball; and some of the young residents at the center admire him. Susan’s life becomes more tolerable as Rodney develops socially acceptable interests, and the police officer assigned to his case takes a nonprofessional interest in her. Although many positive changes occur, this story does not have a fairy-tale ending, and violence is an integral part of the plot. Despite the painful episodes, this novel is a refreshing change of pace from YA fantasies full of zombies, vampires and aliens. Here, the monsters are flesh and blood characters who do brutal things to one another. The excellent pacing creates an urgent narrative marred only by a lack of some sophistication regarding real kids, such as when a 16-year-old boy is oddly impressed by fine table settings. Characters are well-drawn, though some of the dialogue is stilted: “It’s quite a bit bigger inside than the outside had me thinking.”
A YA tale about smart choices, family secrets and peer pressure.