THE SUGAR FACTORY by Robert Carter


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Standard and somewhat contrived coming-of, age first novel from the Australian Carter. Seventeen-year-old narrator Harris Berne, who lives near Sydney with his mother and father and wants to be a Park Ranger, has always been a little weird--his favorite preoccupation is lying under his own house eavesdropping through the floorboards. When he's not doing that, he's pounding rocks into sand--which he calls ""sugar""--and storing the sand in little bags. His fragile grip on life is broken when he baby-sits for Helen McMillan, a divorcÉe on whom he has a crush, and fails to watch her young daughter Clementine: the toddler is trapped in a refrigerator and suffocates. Harris has a hysterical nervous breakdown at his brother's wedding and is sent to a group home run by a no-nonsense good-guy counselor who helps Harris regain his balance, at least temporarily. But Harris is plagued by dreamlike images of a little girl in a blue-and-green checked dress; he leaves the group home with a borrowed gun, confronts his parents, and learns that the little girl is real--she's a half-sister named Christine, who was sent away when Harris was very young. He tracks her down, only to find that the girl is retarded and has no memory of him. At the close, though, things are looking up: Helen McMillan is speaking to him again, and he may even reveal his love for her. Harris has an engaging smart-aleckiness, but the novel's premise is thin, and the book is haunted throughout by the hoary old ghost of Holden Caulfield.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Atheneum