Ready, Okay!

Adam Cadre, Author
Adam Cadre, Author HarperCollins $25 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-019558-8
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""The day I turned sixteen years old I had no idea that in four months nearly everyone I cared about would be dead,"" says Allen Mockery, the spunky narrator of Cadre's enthusiastic though protracted coming-of-age debut. Set in Southern California's Orange County, the novel's stylish, dark humor foreshadows a looming tragedy. At Ilium High School, chirping cell phones, sex parties and drug use are standard fare in the lives of Allen, his twin sister Echo (1600 on her SATs) and his best friend, bossy perfectionist Peggy Kaylin. Allen and Peggy are writers for the school newspaper, The Iliad. Their school spirit prompts them to become peer counselors and designated drivers at drinking bashes. But fellow students do not always appreciate their zeal, for this educational institution has a hidden subculture that its cheerleading chants (the title's inspiration) do not suggest. The darker fringes of school life include a precocious sexual predator named Carver Fringie, whose penchant for date rape ultimately threatens Echo and Peggy. Allen and Echo seek revenge by tying Carver to a chair and leaving him overnight in the school. Unfortunately, he is found by two other students who enact a more violent punishment. The ensuing chain of events propels the narrative to a harrowing, Columbine-esque denouement. The book's first half is hampered by sluggish backstory, and is often overstuffed with throwaway dialogue. But Cadre's talent shines bright in the second half, where he synchronizes pacing, dialogue and crisp characterization, bringing this darkly engaging assortment of young castaways to vibrant life, even as they face certain doom. 3-city author tour. (Aug.)
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