Sure to be shoplifted by teen delinquents, but also has a shot at adult cult status.

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MANSTEALING FOR FAT GIRLS

Teen girl troubles in the drug-addled suburbs of St. Louis.

Embree’s debut has roots in the punk-lit underground—drugs, disaffection, sex, violence and freakiness abound—but the weird innocence of its teen narrator makes it read like an uncensored YA novel. Angie is a fat, working class 16-year-old flirting with an eating disorder as she makes her way through adolescent terrors of identity and sexuality ratcheted up by drugs, isolation and violence. Her mother’s spoiled boyfriend has just moved in, and Angie’s best friend Shelby has declared she’s a lesbian. Angie and Shelby are relatively good kids committed to school, but when Shelby finds a girlfriend, Angie gets into trouble, alternately helped and hurt by her other friends. Embree assembles quite a cast: Heather, a sexy, one-breasted rich girl; Inez, the high school pot-head/dealer and guerilla performance artist; Carrie, a rich-girl anorexic with lesbian tendencies; Pike, a near-homeless teen dropout and sensitive artist; Troy and Mindy, two sexually sadistic rich kids; glamorous working-class Luann and her crystal-meth smoking hippie parents; and, most memorably, Shelby’s older sister Robyn, a tough-as-nails survivor who thrives on psychotic rage and deserves her own novel. Unfortunately, many of these characters remain mere sketches, as mysterious to the reader as they are to themselves. And while Embree casts a sharp eye on the complex lines of class and gender divisions (race is notably absent) that fuel the novel’s episodic violence, and raises fascinating questions about guilt and revenge, she allows Angie only a handful of insightful moments that are so moving and true, the reader can’t help but feel their absence elsewhere. There is the beginning of a much better book here, but readers who identify with the characters’ outsider status, or are drawn into the action as it rockets toward a climactic scene of Robyn-orchestrated retribution, probably won’t care.

Sure to be shoplifted by teen delinquents, but also has a shot at adult cult status.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2005

ISBN: 1-933368-02-0

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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LYDDIE

Abandoned by their mother, whose mental stability has been crumbling since her husband went west, Lyddie and her brother Charlie manage alone through a Vermont winter. But in the spring of 1844, without consulting them, the mother apprentices Charlie to a miller and hires Lyddie out to a tavern, where she is little better than a slave. Still, Lyddie is strong and indomitable, and the cook is friendly even if the mistress is cold and stern; Lyddie manages well enough until a run-in with the mistress sends her south to work in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, thus earning a better wage (in a vain hope of saving the family farm), making friends among the other girls enduring the long hours and dangerous conditions, and expanding her understanding of loyalty, generosity, and injustice (she already knows more than most people ever learn about perseverance). Knowing only her own troubled family, Lyddie is unusually reserved, even for a New Englander, With her usual discernment and consummate skill, Paterson depicts her gradually turning toward the warmth of others' kindnesses—Betsy reads Oliver Twist aloud and suggests the ultimate goal of Oberlin College; Diana teaches Lyddie to cope in the mill, setting an example that Lyddie later follows with an Irish girl who is even more naive than she had been; Quaker neighbors offer help and solace that Lyddie at first rejects out of hand. Deftly plotted and rich in incident, a well-researched picture of the period—and a memorable portrait of an untutored but intelligent young woman making her way against fierce odds.

Pub Date: March 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-525-67338-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2000

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THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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