David Odhiambo, Author . St. Martin's Griffin $12.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-32954-9

John "Leeds" Kipligat, the 17-year-old Kenyan émigré narrator of Odhiambo's earnest but awkward second novel (after diss/ed banded nation ), would love a way out of his blighted Vancouver housing project. Along with his best friend Kulvinder, "the Punjabi equivalent of Shaft," Leeds joins the Achilles Track Club, where, coached by aphoristic, beer-bellied ex-Olympian Sam Holt, he tries to earn an athletic scholarship to a U.S. college. He also navigates the churning waters of adolescence—girls, school, fights with parents ("Why can't they leave me alone?")—familiar territory that, coupled with the slangy casualness of the prose ("School is a real downer. This being the day I'm in and out of science labs"), can give the story a YA feel. In brief flashbacks, we learn about the comfortable (and corruption-supported) life that the Kipligats lived in Kenya, and of a revered older brother, Koech, an activist and a promising runner himself, whose absence (he mysteriously disappeared amid violent political upheaval) haunts the story and drives Leeds toward his goal. This briskly paced story offers an energetic sincerity and sympathetic characters, but the dialogue can feel wooden, dramatization is often neglected in favor of summary, and serious issues—including poverty and self-mutilation—are paid only perfunctory attention. This is a slightly undercooked novel, but its writer shows promise. Agent, Tom Wallace . (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 09/06/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Fiction
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