Praying to A.L.

Judith Caseley, Author
Judith Caseley, Author Greenwillow Books $15.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-688-15934-4
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Caseley's (Starring Dorothy Kane) moving if uneven novel opens as a credibly limned, diverse group of relatives--Jewish on her father's side and Cuban on her mother's--gathers to mourn the death of Sierra Goodman's father. Missing him greatly, the 13-year-old finds solace in the portrait of Abraham Lincoln that her father had hung on her bedroom wall (""Lincoln's melancholy expression soothed her, as if his etched lines of pain knew her sorrow"") and, in a posthumous gift from her father, a collection of Lincoln's speeches and writings. She finds parallels between Lincoln's personality and that of her father, and between her personal life and that of ""A.L."" When her class is assigned to write and perform a play, Sierra suggests that they base it on Lincoln's life. As Sierra and Eli, her estranged best friend, research their roles (Mary Todd Lincoln and her husband, respectively), Caseley stretches her theme almost to the snapping point. In the finale of the play performance, depicting Lincoln's death, Sierra throws herself onto Eli and they both begin sobbing, she feeling the loss of her father and he mourning his father's descent into alcoholism (""They were a duet of tears, converging grief, his body shuddering beneath her own""). On the other hand, the shadow of Sierra's father feels real and poignant throughout, and the author follows up her melodramatic catharsis with an affecting, hopeful ending that may well offer comfort to youngsters who have experienced a similar loss. Ages 10-up. (May)
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