Kathe Koja, Author . FSG/Foster $16 (112p) ISBN 978-0-374-37278-1

Koja (Extremities), the author of novels for adults, enters the YA realm with a solid if sometimes familiar tale of a high school misfit: "What do you do when you're too smart for the freaks, but too much of a freak for the smart kids? when there's no table in the lunchroom for the ones like you?" For Rachel, the answer is to wear her anger on her sleeve—anger at her parents, at her shallow classmates, and at a world whose expectations seem so superficial—and to isolate herself. She takes solace in her writing and in her volunteer job at an animal shelter, where she feels an instant kinship with a feral collie ("Why should I trade who I am for who they want me to be? So they can pat me on the head and put me in the normal-girl box? I'd rather be alone. I'd rather be a wild dog than jammed in someone's cage"). She hatches ill-advised plans to save the dog, whom she makes into the narrator of her essay-in-progress, "straydog" (passages are strategically interspersed). A number of elements are well-worn: the encouraging English teacher; the new boy who is a loner yet seems remarkably adept socially; the writing contest that validates Rachel's talent. Yet the protagonist, for all her alienation, proves both compelling and sympathetic. In telling her story, Koja plumbs not only Rachel's dark and darkly funny psyche, but also what it means to be human and to make connections of love and trust. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/25/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
Prebound-Sewn - 128 pages - 978-1-4176-1702-9
Paperback - 105 pages - 978-0-14-240071-5
Prebound-Glued - 106 pages - 978-0-606-29677-9
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