Catherine Atkins, Author . Putnam $17.99 (199p) ISBN 978-0-399-23854-3

Carefully nuanced connections between characters plus insight into the adolescent ability to use low self-esteem as a cruel weapon catapults Atkins's (When Jeff Comes Home) novel of troubled teens well above the familiarity of its trappings (e.g., The Breakfast Club). Narrator Susan Callaway opens with a scene from her freshman year in high school in which classmate Kale Krasner taunts her, sending her scurrying to the library and a chance meeting with Brendan Slater, who shows her kindness. Fast forward in the next chapter to a year later, when Susan is in trouble and Mr. Duffy, school counselor ("aka Puffy, Doofy, Doofdork, and Lardass"), tells her he has saved her from expulsion by enrolling her in his Vocational Ed class with five other students in the same predicament. Yes, Kale and Brendan are also in the group—Kale is a bully, Brendan is gay and Susan is fat. The other two members of the group: popular jock Randy Callahan (on whom Susan has an enormous crush), beautiful cheerleader Tracee Ellison, who dates quarterback Justin Wright, and Amber Hawkins (labeled "slut" and "skank" on the bathroom walls). Oh, and Susan's widowed father is the football coach. Atkins exploits the stereotypes brilliantly, weaving together these small-town students' histories in unexpected ways. She reveals brief episodes from the past with quartz-like precision, setting off a series of small epiphanies. Teenagers will find themselves re-examining peers they had written off, as each of Atkins's characters emerges, fully formed from these pages. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Prebound-Sewn - 978-0-606-32472-4
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-4025-5904-4
Mass Market Paperbound - 198 pages - 978-0-14-240235-1
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