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Grandfather Cohen suns the stump of his leg every afternoon, father Sam is an affable braggart, a traveling salesman who stays away for two years, mother Janice croons her eternal love, whines her disappointments. Howie, from thirteen to fifteen, has contempt for all of them except Sam (until even Sam loses a little of his luster); he has no less contempt for himself, and why not--his forays into sex (practice-kissing a dummy head, a ""wet...soft...warm"" embrace playing Post Office) are stymied; he is self-conscious about his Jewish nose, his Jewish grandparents, his hairy, arms; his overtures of friendship are rebuffed (despite determined bribery). In one attempt to ingratiate himself, he is caught stealing baseball cards; in another he is intercepted passing a dirty picture of a teacher. His mother demands punishment, his father complies by belting the wall while Howie howls...and the author closes on the next page with Howie's revelation that nobody is perfect, we're all human. Only two small incidents--he earns a bike, becomes a hero in a rubber gun war by ""being himself""--hold any hope for Howie; these stand for the solution, a familiar Juvenile ploy grossly overextended. Howie's unease about his Jewishness is never resolved (and the ridicule never rebutted), the cruelty of the kids is universal and untempered, the adults are fools at best, vicious at worst (and do right only occasionally out of their own weakness), and Howie is too much of a schlemiel to win much sympathy as a victim. In sum, this often effective vivisection is neither a satisfactory book for children nor a new Catcher in the Rye.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1967
Publisher: Harper & Row