When Kambia Elaine Flew in from Neptune

Lori Aurelia Williams, Author, Jack Louth, Illustrator Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing $17 (256p) ISBN 978-0-689-82468-5
With words that often read more like poetry than prose, first-time novelist Williams creates a complex coming-of-age story that packs an emotional wallop. Her intelligent and tender narrator, Shayla, a 12-year-old African-American growing up in Houston, has much fodder for her writing notebooks. Her older sister Tia, on the brink of womanhood, reaches a standoff with her mother over her wish to see Doo-witty, an older boy whom the town deems ""slow"" (""Silence is clinging to our house like vines on a fence,"" writes Shayla). Kambia, a neglected girl with a wild imagination, moves in next door, telling Shayla stories about her fear of the Wallpaper Wolves who live in her house, and Memory Beetles that carry people's good memories in their chubby bodies. At first, her frail neighbor's stories annoy Shayla, but as the details grow more vivid and viscous, Shayla begins to decipher their deeper meaning. Through Williams's eloquent, metaphorical approach, she protects readers from the grim realities of what goes on inside Kambia's house without underplaying their harmful effects. When Kambia finally winds up in the hospital, Shayla grows up fast, learning that sometimes to be a good friend to someone, you have to spill her secrets. As Shayla stands by Kambia's side, she learns the strength of unconditional love--a message Williams further demonstrates as Tia and her mother struggle to make peace. While this is intense material, Williams handles it sensitively; she is a writer to watch. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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