HANG ON IN THERE, SHELLEY

Kate Saksena, Author . Bloomsbury $16.95 (219p) ISBN 978-1-58234-822-3

Inspired by a magazine interview that quotes pop idol Ziggy as saying that "you must be honest with yourself and at least one person you really trust," a 14-year-old Londoner decides to write directly to him. Shelley's journal-like letters describe her life, including her struggles with her alcoholic, divorced mother. In return, Ziggy sends her short, inspiring postcards and, ultimately, a longer letter. First-novelist Saksena creates a likable and realistic narrator, but puts Shelley in extreme situations that undermine the plot's believability. At the start, Shelley has just moved with her mother and eight-year-old brother, Jake, into a flat (her mother couldn't pay the mortgage on their house after losing her job), and is about to start a new school. Shelley looks after Jake as her mother loses jobs, stays out all night and even gets imprisoned on a charge of "grievous bodily harm." Readers may have a hard time understanding why the kids stay with her instead of moving in with their supportive father, aunt or grandmother, especially with the horrendous things their mother says to Shelley (" 'You little bitch,' she spat, 'You've even turned my little boy against his mother' "). It also seems bizarre when Shelley's ongoing feud with class bully Janice results in a hearing in which secret surveillance tapes are revealed. Unfortunately, Shelley's authentic voice gets buried beneath all the plotting, and there isn't a true resolution with her mother, despite the upbeat ending. Ages 10-up. (June)

Reviewed on: 06/02/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
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