Make Believe

Joanna Scott, Author
Joanna Scott, Author Back Bay Books $23.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-316-77616-5
Reviewed on: 01/31/2000
Release date: 02/01/2000
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-316-77666-0
Hardcover - 394 pages - 978-0-7838-9086-9
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-1-86046-976-3
Hardcover - 246 pages - 978-1-86046-885-8
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Unafraid to take risks, Scott (The Manikin) is a resourceful writer who explores new territory each time she writes fiction. Here she establishes a dramatic situation at the outset, and uses flashbacks to flesh out the characters whose actions will determine the fate of a precocious, wary four-year-old boy of mixed racial parentage. He is Bo Templin, whose stream of consciousness Scott enters as he hangs upside down, hurt and frightened, in the car his mother, Jenny Templin, has just crashed, resulting in her death. Bo knows he's a ""shining brown boy"" whose African-American father, Kamon Gilbert, died before he was born; he's been cherished by his paternal grandparents, Erma and Sam, but Jenny's own mother, Marge, and her stepfather, Eddie Gantz, have not made any attempt to see Bo since his birth. When Bo is released from the hospital after an emergency operation for a ruptured spleen--a potentially lethal injury that initially went undetected after he was rescued--the loving Gilberts take him in. But then Eddie perceives that if he and Marge win a custody battle for Bo, they could sue the hospital for negligence. Scott omits the court case, which somewhat undermines her story, because it seems unlikely to the reader that Bo would be awarded to his maternal grandparents; but this indeed occurs, on the assumption that a white couple would be perceived as more stable than a working-class black family. Bewildered Bo intuitively perceives that sanctimonious Eddie Gantz hates him; his attempt to escape Eddie's wrath leads to a stunning denouement, both tragic and redemptive. With stylistic gracefulness and technical assurance, Scott allows all the characters--including little Bo--to visualize their fantasies, capturing both their wishes and their fears in vivid imaginary scenarios. Depicting their emotional histories with empathy, she grants integrity to people trying to lead decent lives amid hardships. Her attempts to describe events through Bo's eyes sensitively reflect a child's innocent, flawed understanding of the world. This is a compelling story that will leave readers haunted by Scott's powerful moral vision. (Jan.)
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