Two kids are obliged to spend their summers working with the janitors to clean out the high school before it reopens in the fall.
Michael didn't mean to blow up the school. His plan was to blow up his ex–best friend's car with those bundles of firecrackers. But authorities didn't quite believe him, so he was sentenced to community service over the summer. Shelly smokes on school grounds—that's her excuse, anyway, for the summerlong detention. The two white teens find plenty to talk about and plenty to hide as they grow close over the long days. They share a passion for reading, especially the poetry of Pablo Neruda, and they slowly reveal their secrets to each other. Together, Michael and Shelly confront the realities they've been dealt and struggle to move forward together. Moe uses lyrical language to introduce teenagers whose problems go beyond bullying or unrequited love. She treats Michael's unusual home situation with realistic grace, while the relationship between the two teenagers is organic and interesting. Occasionally, the imagery is distractingly pat, as when Shelly overidentifies with two ducks far from water and says she and Michael are “kind of like those ducks….An odd pair of misfits, way out of our leagues.”
A summerlong punishment becomes a sensitive, thoughtful novel. (Fiction. 14-18)