Picture-book author Croza (From There to Here, 2014, etc.) stretches out in a collection of short stories for older readers.
In the opening selection, young Charity is witness to the decline of her parents’ marriage as her mother struggles to assert her independence and free them both from her father’s tyranny. In another, Jasmine, a young teenage mom, has been abandoned by her own mother and endures the scrutiny of her peers as she adjusts to life at home with a new baby and her loving grandfather. In “A Beautiful Smile,” which echoes Croza’s picture-book stories, a transplant from the rural north begins her first day of school in Toronto. Her story is littered with boldface words, which readers may find more distracting than illuminating. After a host of rather depressing stories, the final tale, “Book of Dreams,” holds a bit of a spark, as aspiring artist Mike leaves his single mom and her beer-drinking boyfriend at home in front of the TV to go to his job at the local restaurant, where he’s found a sense of family and belonging. Though it appears the author is attempting to highlight teen stories that are not so glamorous, her long-form prose style is lackluster and at times distancing. She experiments with a talking-doll protagonist in one story and a cemetery-dwelling squirrel in another, two tales that feel distinctly disconnected from the rest of the collection.
With a feeling that’s more experimental than wholehearted, this collection is one most kids will pass on. (Short stories. 12-15)