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Standard coming-of-age debut set amid a 1979 murder spree of African-American children.

Part One, third person: Tasha is the kind of fifth-grader who practices jumping rope all summer long so she can run with the popular jump-ropers once school starts again. So the story begins, along with some revelations about Tasha’s parents’ marriage, but all is eclipsed as the news of the murders of local children takes its place at the center of conversation. Other kids quickly adopt the tragedy as a weapon of threat toward one other, but all the fuss doesn’t divert Tasha from worrying about whether she’ll be invited to the big sleepover or whether Jashante, her love interest, will eat M&Ms with her in the magical way. Then another little boy disappears. Part Two, second person and a switch over to Rodney (one of the weirdest kids in Tasha’s class) for more elementary-school adventures as the investigation goes on. Most of the victims are boys, so Rodney wonders why his parents aren’t more concerned about the danger than about beating him for his grades, particularly Father, who thinks he’s hurt only Rodney’s feelings after beating him in public. Part Three, first person, and Tasha’s pal Octavia’s big problem is that her mother lies to her about things like the Easter Bunny and hypodermic needles. And now Rodney has turned up missing as well. Octavia’s mother’s boyfriend is careless with drugs, and Octavia gets her period (“It wasn’t a big deal”). Speculation ensues that the murders are an effort to eliminate the black man, and it’s a black man—Octavia’s father—who calls one day just as the plot starts to thin. Rodney turns up dead, and it becomes clear that the proximity of death has been a metaphor for the difficulty of those eking out their lives amidst an anonymous air of danger.

Technically ambitious, but not a story otherwise out of the ordinary.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 2002
ISBN: 0-446-52830-7
Page count: 280pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2002


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