DOWNTOWN by Norms Fox Mazer
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DOWNTOWN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Why did you leave me? Why did you set that bomb? . . . Didn't you know what might happen? How could you be sure no one was in the lab?"" Those are the thoughts of 16-year-old narrator-hero Pete Greenwood--who has lived, since age eight, with his terrific Uncle Gene in downtown Winston, pretending that both his parents are dead. But, as only Gene and Pete know, his parents are really Hal and Laura Connors, Weatherman-like fugitives ever since they bombed a germ-warfare lab--and unintentionally killed two people. So, understandably, Pete (nÉ Pax) has troubled dreams, ambivalent feelings about his parents (who write annually), fears of FBI surveillance. And his Big Secret becomes an especially big burden when he starts falling in love with wary Cary Longstreet--who tells him her secret (part of it, at least) right away: she's a foster-child with a rough-and-tumble background. Then, confirming his worst fears, Pete is approached by FBI agents; even though he has no information about his parents' whereabouts, he's tormented by the FBI questions, harassed by their presence, thrown into conflict with Uncle Gene. Soon, he has to tell Cary everything; she responds in kind, revealing her natural parents' woes (heroin addiction, alcoholism) and her own frustrated yearnings for adoption. And the final frazzle for poor Pete comes with a newspaper headline: ""FUGITIVE SURRENDERS TO FEDS."" Yes, his mother--long-separated from his father, it turns out--has given herself up. Moreover, she starts writing letters to Pete, urging him to move to N.Y., to live with her friends and visit her in prison. What will Pete do? At the fadeout, on the way to N.Y. with Gene for a first visit, he's not quite sure: ""Home? Where's that? Home to my mother? Home to Gene?. . . There is no ending for my story. . . no little-Pax-happy-at-last ending."" (A sequel can probably be expected.) Mazer has an overload of issues here, heaping Cary's foster-child case onto Pete's highly unusual problem-world. The treatment, therefore, sometimes gets awfully thin and choppy--especially with the clumsy plot exposition in the opening chapters. Still, those parent-fugitives provide an undeniably potent premise--while Uncle Gene and his nice girlfriend Martha supply some low-key, homey warmth. And the result, once you accept the basic melodramatic setup, is a reasonably effective blend of tense situations, conflicting feelings, and emotional outbursts.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow; Avon