ZIGZAG by Landon J. Napoleon
Kirkus Star


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A remarkable debut portraying the inner life of a disturbed ghetto teenager as he attempts to grow up in the frightening world he's inherited.

Louis Fletcher, alias ZigZag, is one of those charmed unfortunates who appear so forlorn and helpless that they can get away with murder—literally. Ostensibly mentally retarded, ZigZag works as a dishwasher and lives with his abusive father, who shakes him down for cash and continually reminds him that he "killed" his own mother during childbirth. In actuality Louis isn't retarded but autistic, with a phenomenal memory and grasp of mathematics, although, at 15, he does lack the most basic understanding of social behavior and verbal communication. He's looked after by Dean Singer, his Big Brother from a local welfare agency, who takes him on outings and tries to get him placed in a safer home than his father's. When ZigZag's father threatens to throw him out on the street unless he comes up with $200 to pay the rent, the boy memorizes the combination of his boss's safe and steals $5,000. Singer discovers what's happened and tries to retrieve the money before ZigZag is arrested, but ZigZag's father takes the whole packet and uses it to pay back a loan shark. So now Singer must borrow money himself to keep ZigZag out of trouble. The result? He almost gets both ZigZag and himself into even worse trouble when he tries to replace the loot in the safe. Soon the detectives are dusting for fingerprints, the safe is still empty, and Singer is going to get some bones broken unless he comes up with a way of making the loan-shark's weekly vig. A hopeless scenario? Well, God upholds the foolish, innocence is often mistaken for ignorance, and in the end it's ZigZag who looks after Singer in the first of many role-reversals that twist through this marvelously intricate tale.

An unaffected, moving, and astonishing insight into the heart of a troubled, silent genius.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-6048-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999