SIGNS AND WONDERS

As 14-year-old Taswell, a virgin, relates in this epistolary novel the progress of her pregnancy, she draws readers into her supreme self-confidence, toward her unshakable conviction that she is about to bring forth a prophet. From the small convent school where she has been sent because her grandmother Mavis doesn’t quite know what to do with her, Taswell writes letters. At first her case appears to be one of ordinary self-absorption, common among teenagers, but soon it becomes clear that Taswell’s belief that the world revolves around her has reached monumental proportions. She writes to the beautiful and self-possessed Mavis, to accuse her of being more concerned with her own life and career than with Taswell herself; she writes to her father, Charles, who after several marriages seems to have found a woman he really loves; and she writes to a kind of guardian spirit named Pim. Taswell holds her secret close, and readers watch with a kind of dread and fascination as it unfolds. She enlists a schoolmate to be her midwife, and as news of her pregnancy spreads, Taswell faces the school authorities and her relatives with equal ferocity. While the denouement is a bit too easy, readers will be tied into the claustrophobic interior of Taswell’s heart for the duration. With great clarity and precision, Collins shows how all the strength and good wishes of the nuns who teach Taswell, and the shortcomings of the relatives who love her, are not enough; this heroine will face her guardian angel, or angels, and see her own way clear. Riveting. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-395-97119-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1999

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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CLOSE-UP

“On the basis of their own words” Dudevszky wrote first-person accounts of the sad ordeals of several teenagers who are unable to reside with their families. There are reasons—often a list of reasons—the teenagers no longer live at home, and none of them are good. Marco’s father molested his sisters, Brenda’s parents were addicted to alcohol and drugs, Manuela’s father beat her, and Leyla had to escape from Iran for political reasons. The message that trumpets through is how desperately these youngsters, most living in foster or group homes in the Netherlands, need attention and affection. Jerry, a youth home resident, says, “I don’t get homesick at all. I don’t see my parents that much. They don’t come on my birthday. Well, so they don’t. I’m not going to lose sleep over it.” Maarten, 16, who was moved six times in four years, says, “I often felt lonely. Every time you go to another place you’re all on your own again.” Although the book is worthy, the tone is understandably depressing, and after a while the individual stories lose their bite. Readers who have the pertinacity to get through it will root for Asena and her “number-one wish,” which is “to become happy.” (Nonfiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 1999

ISBN: 1-886910-40-5

Page Count: 125

Publisher: Lemniscaat/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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