CROOKED

PLB 0-679-99300-2 In a story that sprawls over the thematic landscape, two teenagers are shaken by sudden family losses and menaced by a pair of genuinely scary hoodlums as they fumble their way toward intimacy. Despite all hints, Amos is surprised when his father dies of stomach cancer; meanwhile, his classmate Clara watches as her parents separate and her mother takes a teaching job overseas. Enter bad-news siblings Charles and Eddie Tripp; when Amos witnesses them vandalizing mailboxes, Charles lays him out with a baseball bat, then mounts a clever campaign of terror to ensure his silence. Coached by his sinister older brother, Eddie begins stalking Clara, with intentions that seem simultaneously leering and romantic. Other than one friend, Bruce, whose presence is an obvious attempt at comic relief, Amos and Clara are otherwise surrounded by oblivious, ineffectual, or malicious peers and adults. Although a series of missteps gives their budding romance an engaging coltishness, there is so much anger, fear, and grief here, as well as brutality and betrayal, that the story can be deadening. Switching point-of-view from Amos to Clara in alternating chapters, the McNeals (The Dog Who Lost His Bob, 1996) drive their cast to a contrived but terrifying attempted rape, then end on a sour note, with a flat Thanksgiving and the news that Charles is back in juvie—-but only for a few months. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-679-89300-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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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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THE YEAR THEY BURNED THE BOOKS

Garden (Good Moon Rising, 1996, etc.) returns to territory she’s staked out in previous novels for this drawn-out tale of gay teenagers caught in a small town conservative backlash. As Jamie watches her long-time friend Terry move into a relationship that is effectively pulling him out of the closet, she develops a powerful yen for straight-but-accepting newcomer Tessa. Meanwhile, backed by a shadowy national organization, community activist Lisa Buel gets herself elected to the school board and immediately launches a campaign against the new sex-ed curriculum, the availability of condoms at the high school, and the liberal stance of the school’s paper, of which Jamie is editor-in-chief. The cast is composed of types, modeling behavior and expressing a range of attitudes; with frequent stops for newspaper editorials, prolonged conversations, and indignant speeches, the plot moves past various confrontations, a book-burning, hate mail, and a near- riot at school to an eventual uneasy peace. By the end, the gay teens have earned a measure of acceptance and Buel is handily defeated in a follow-up election, but the school newspaper is shut down for the year, and all health classes are turned—temporarily—into study halls. Garden makes a game if unsuccessful effort to create an evenhanded liberal/conservative dialogue, but the characters’ mercurial love lives and their searches for identity will provide the book’s chief draws. (Fiction. 13-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-38667-6

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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