In the vein of To Kill a Mockingbird, but about class rather than race, and lacking a bit of its righteous moral clarity.

IF JACK'S IN LOVE

Caught between love and loyalty, young Jack cannot seem to make a decision that doesn’t feel wrong.

In Wetta’s debut novel, Jack is a Witcher, son of a sometime mechanic, sometime unemployed hillbilly father and a poor-but-respectable mother. The Witchers are trash, publicly labeled as such. Their house, with a maybe-useful commode in the mostly dirt yard, scars El Dorado Hills, a 1967 Virginia suburb where good folks like the Coghills, Joyners and Kellners worry about Vietnam and integration and wish the Witchers elsewhere. But soon-to-be-13 Jack loves Myra Joyner, and that’s a problem. It happens too that Jack’s older brother, long-haired, pot-smoking Stanley, hates Myra’s bother, Duke University–bound Gaylord Joyner, recent usurper of good girl Courtney Blankenship’s affections. Wetta’s narrative weaves Jack’s pursuit of Myra around Stan’s tendency to bloody the nose of anyone who offers a slight, real or imagined, a trait inherited from Witcher senior. Jack’s ally in his quest is another outsider, Moses Gladstein, a Jewish jeweler from New Jersey. Myra likes Jack, primarily because Jack is the school’s smartest kid, and Stan has found a new love in Anya, hippie daughter of the Taylors, rich folk new in the neighborhood. The characters are realistic, especially the Witchers, even Stan, whose thin-skinned “Don’t tread on me” attitude ranges beyond the borders of sanity. Witcher-snobs are drawn with less intensity, although the white-bread image of a newly enrolled Klansman named Pudding hits the mark. Gaylord goes missing, Stan is accused and the Witchers are shunned and harassed. Jack puzzles through the story, but the dichotomy between his intellectual superiority and pubescent emotional behavior sometimes seems off-kilter. Jack understands that “Families live on loyalty more than love…" It’s the costs of loyalty that causes him pain.

In the vein of To Kill a Mockingbird, but about class rather than race, and lacking a bit of its righteous moral clarity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15752-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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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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A celebratory song of the sea.

THE HIGHEST TIDE

A shrimpy 13-year-old with a super-sized passion for marine life comes of age during a summer of discovery on the tidal flats of Puget Sound.

Miles O’Malley—Squid Boy to his friends—doesn’t mind being short. It’s other things that keep him awake at night, like his parents’ talk of divorce and his increasingly lustful thoughts about the girl next door. Mostly, though, it’s the ocean’s siren call that steals his sleep. During one of his moonlit kayak excursions, Miles comes across the rarest sighting ever documented in the northern Pacific: the last gasp of a Giant Squid. Scientists are stunned. The media descend. As Miles continues to stumble across other oddball findings, including two invasive species that threaten the eco-balance of Puget Sound, a nearby new-age cult’s interest in Miles prompts a headline in USA Today: Kid Messiah? Soon tourists are flocking to the tidal flats, crushing crustaceans underfoot and painting their bodies with black mud. Dodging disingenuous journalists, deluded disciples and the death-throes of his parents’ marriage, Miles tries to recapture some semblance of normality. He reads up on the G-spot and the Kama Sutra to keep pace with his pals’ bull sessions about sex (hilariously contributing “advanced” details that gross the other boys out). But Miles’s aquatic observations cannot be undone, and as summer draws to a close, inhabitants of Puget Sound prepare for a national blitzkrieg of media and scientific attention and the highest tide in 40 years, all of which threatens everything Miles holds dear. On land, the rickety plot could have used some shoring up. Miles is just too resourceful for the reader to believe his happiness—or that of those he loves—is ever at stake. But when Miles is on the water, Lynch’s first novel becomes a stunning light show, both literal, during phosphorescent plankton blooms, and metaphorical, in the poetic fireworks Lynch’s prose sets off as he describes his clearly beloved Puget Sound.

A celebratory song of the sea.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2005

ISBN: 1-58234-605-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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