Palpable grief plus irreverent humor equal one extraordinary debut novel.
After algebra teacher Mrs. Bennett inappropriately chides ADD-suffering Sandinista Jones (named for the seminal Clash album) for not paying attention in class, the 18-year-old, whose single mother has recently died, gives up on school and life. The situation reminds Sandinista of all the times she failed to stand up for a mentally challenged student during Mrs. Bennett’s endless taunting. To fill her days, the teen quickly finds a job at the Pale Circus, a vintage clothing store, a companion in heartache with co-worker and “druggie Robin Hood” Bradley and in possession of a handgun. Her resonant, thought-provoking first-person narration reveals her mounting helplessness, tension and guilt as on each passing day the school fails to call her (who’s not paying attention now?) and makes readers gulp in anticipation as she plots revenge against Mrs. Bennett. It takes a village, or at least a street full of eclectic shop workers in her rundown Kansas City neighborhood, to raise Sandinista out of despair. From her newfound community, comprised of the HIV-positive Pale Circus owner, Erika of Erika’s Erotic Confections, a sympathetic pawn-shop owner and friendly Trappist monks, she finds faith, the will to go on in and unexpected beauty in an often cruel world.
Sharp storytelling indeed. (Fiction. 14 & up)