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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FRAMED IN FIRE

Patneaude (The Last Man’s Reward, 1996, etc.) hatches a silly plot and one-dimensional characters, but preteens might enjoy this piece of escapist entertainment about a boy wrongly committed to a mental asylum. Peter’s weak-willed mother has lied to him all his life about his real father, allegedly dead. Peter doesn’t get along with his stepfather, a car salesman, who schemes to have him committed by a corrupt psychiatrist. In the asylum, Peter befriends two disturbed inmates and a health technician who help him escape. Among the absurd plot concoctions: Peter’s five-year-old half-brother, Lincoln, is psychic, allowing Peter extraordinary access to clues he needs to find his real father; and that his father has been searching for Peter all along. Patneaude resurrects elements from his first novel, Someone Was Watching (1993), in which a supposedly drowned sister has really been kidnapped, and in which a cross-country trip unfolds without much mishap. His writing style, however, is so robust that even if readers find little remotely connected to reality in these pages, there’s more than enough suspense in the fast-paced narrative to keep them entertained. (Fiction. 8-13)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8075-9098-3

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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DON'T CALL IT PARADISE

Pearson (The Secret Box, 1997, etc.) leaves nothing between the lines in this patchy tale of a perfect family that turns out to be anything but. To Maddie, the vivacious, unconventional McBeans have always made her own Illinois family look dull, and so, a year and a half after their move to California, she looks forward eagerly to a two-week stay with them. She finds them as welcoming as ever—more so, as her friend Beanie’s older brother Buddy, formerly a bully of the worst sort, gives her a warm hello. Beanie, on the other hand, seems more of a wimp than ever, moody, self-deprecating, and clumsy. Initially, Maddie finds Buddy’s recklessness more exciting than scary, and discounts Beanie’s warnings, but his true colors come out, in a contrived way, during a beach party. Refusing, as always, to see what Buddy is really like, the McBean parents turn on Maddie; she cuts her visit short and flies home, newly appreciative of her own staid but reliable parents, and meditating on the raw deal both Beanie and Buddy have gotten from theirs. Readers will have trouble accepting both Maddie’s friendship, characterized more by dissension than commonalities, with Beanie, and her attraction to the so obviously dysfunctional McBean family in general, but the point that fair surface can hide foul heart is strongly, unflinchingly driven home. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-689-82579-X

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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