cover image Burning City

Burning City

Ariel Dorfman, Joaquin Dorfman, . . Random, $15.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-375-83203-1

Heller Highland, 16, works at "Soft Tidings," an unlikely Manhattan company that delivers "news with a personal touch." Uncommon empathy makes him the firm's choice to deliver the worst news—a capsized boat off the Albanian coast had your wife and children aboard, a son has died in a Chinese re-education camp, a sweetheart in Istanbul has married another. Heller is a sad sack himself, pining for Silvia, a waitress whose eyes "made (him) want to crawl inside her soul." He's an outcast at work—the lone cyclist on a rollerblading staff. His two-wheeled dreams extend to entering the Tour de France, hoping to become its youngest champion ever. To that end, he employs many don't-try-this-at-home moves that will thrill teen readers—hitching himself to a moving car, tilting sideways under a truck parked in his path, hurtling over a construction site. The plot paints New York City as a very small town where the same few characters turn up everywhere and just when Heller needs them, but the father-son Dorfmans (both playwrights) do evoke the city's ethnic richness. Heller's kindness to strangers would be more credible if he didn't treat his grandparents, with whom he lives while his parents are on an unspecified do-gooder mission, with such disdain, and his voice often sounds too wise. Still, his derring-do on a bike will entice some readers, and the portrait of New York just before September 11 will draw others. Ages 12-up. (May)