Cutting Loose

Michael Z. Lewin, Author Henry Holt & Company $23.95 (528p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6225-0
Although Lewin, award-winning writer of detective fiction, claims that his first book for young readers is a ""coming of age story,"" his sprawling thriller draws more on the conventions of the adult historical saga than those of the YA novel. He starts off with a bang: in 1895 New York, 20-year-old Jackie Cross promises her best friend, Nance, who is on her deathbed, that she'll get back the locket stolen from her by her attacker, the knife-throwing showman Teddy Zeph. The book's second chapter shifts both time and place with the introduction of Claudette LaCroix, separated from her brothers and sold at auction after the death of their parents in a fire in 1826 Indiana. Alternating chapters unfold Jackie's quest to track down the murdering Zeph and three generations of her back story (readers discover about half way through the connection between Claudette and Jackie); 19th-century baseball, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, orphan trains, London music halls, Jack the Ripper and cross-dressing all play a part. Lewin's characters aren't drawn with much depth, but his facility with dialogue and dialect makes them lively and appealing; his fast-paced plotting compensates for the book's daunting length. While much of Claudette's story seems out of place in a children's book (her sexual relationships, her inability to love her only son), fans of Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart will find a kindred spirit in Jackie. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/30/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
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