Bunting, in a markedly different approach from her The Day the Whale Came (reviewed above), collaborates with Ransome (The Creation) on a gripping picture book told through the first-person narrative of a boy who nearly joins a gang. One evening, while their mother works at her waitressing job, 10-year-old James takes his six-year-old brother, Isaac, along to meet up with the K-Bones, a gang to which James yearns to belong. As his initiation rite, James must spray-paint the K-Bones name over that of a rival gang, the Snakes, on a freeway sign ("" `Cool,' I say, but I'm more nervous than ever""). James does the deed, but learns that the gang also steals for fun, and begins to have doubts about joining. Then, on their way back, they run into the Snakes, who fire a gun. No one gets hurt, but the next night, when James and Isaac are offered membership to the K-Bones, they refuse. Though the ending is a bit facile, Bunting skillfully contrasts James's cool veneer with his inner turmoil, creating a story that will likely resonate with children who have felt pulled against their own conscience. Ransome's full-bleed oil paintings convey the tension and looming danger of the boys' misadventure. His illustrations effectively put readers in James's shoes: in the most dramatic, the K-Bones gang stares out from the page against a swirling gold background as the leader extends the can of spray paint to readers themselves. Ages 6-10. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/16/1998 Release date: 03/01/1998 Genre: Children's
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