DRAWING LESSONS

A teenager suffers through her parents’ separation in this smoothly stylized, if conventional, debut. Aurora’s world comes crashing down when she catches her artist father nuzzling a model. Rory, a talented artist herself, furiously burns her sketchbook; suddenly he’s gone, leaving Rory and her mother wallowing in teary guilt, sending back a letter with lines that infuriate: “one day you’ll understand,” and “someday, when you’re older . . . “ Rory stops all painting and drawing, and curls up around the hurt, stonewalling even her best friend, Nicky. Rory’s almost continual awareness of light and color gives her a convincing artist’s voice, and Mack sets her back on her feet in the end, with the help of time, Nicky’s loyalty, and a startling gift from her father: her charred sketchbook, rescued and repaired both as a sign of his love, and to remind her to believe in herself. Psychological insight here is but skin deep, and the characters play it pretty close to type, but readers may be affected by the story’s overall emotional intensity. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-11202-8

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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F IS FOR FABULOSO

In an earnest, preachy tale from Lee (Night of the Chupacabras, 1998, etc.), a Korean-American seventh grader copes with poor teaching in school and rising tension at home. Two years after moving to Minnesota, Jin-Ha’s mother is still trapped in the family apartment, so afraid to attempt English that she’s unable to shop without a translator, and so isolated that she doesn’t know what the F at the top of Jin-Ha’s math test means. Driven by guilt and humiliation, Jin-Ha resolves to study harder; she gets no help from her lazy, inflexible, insensitive (“You Japanese are going to beat our butts”) teacher, but finds an unexpected ally in hunky classmate Grant Hartwig. In public, he calls her a “friggin’ jap math geek,” justifying himself by saying, “That’s how guys are. You have to prove that you can dish it out and take it, too,” but in private he morphs into a patient math tutor. To compound Jin-Ha’s worries, her father takes to coming home late nearly every night with a vague excuse. The situations are resolved amid a welter of confessions (Jin-Ha’s father is working a second job), stern lectures, and fervent promises, capped by a warm, fuzzy Christmas scene. Although often perceptive, this study in cultural acclimation is weighed down by artificial-sounding dialogue and scarily simplistic characters. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 1999

ISBN: 0-380-97648-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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