WHY DOES THE COQU SING?

Barbara Garland Polikoff, Author . Holiday $16.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8234-1817-6

Seventh-grader Luz Sorrento movingly relates the challenges of being uprooted from Chicago to her mother's native Puerto Rico in Polikoff's (Life's a Funny Proposition, Horatio ) ambitious novel. Being 13 is not easy for Luz, especially in a new school where a bully calls her "Scarface" (for the "worm"-shaped scar on her face resulting from a tussle with her older brother), having to share a home with Leon, her stepfather, and leaving behind her best friend. The somewhat disjointed style of the narrative mirrors Luz's difficulty finding her bearings, but it also contributes to the underdevelopment of some key relationships between Luz and other members of her family (her brother, Rome, as well as her aunt and Leon). Still the author crafts some moments of true poignancy, especially with Luz's mother and grandfather, and a newfound friend, Rosita. And Luz's sense of humor and her attempts to make the best of things will likely warm readers' hearts: "Instead of buying a plastic Christmas tree (no evergreens here) we strung colored lights on our big eggplant bush.... Instead of singing 'O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,' we sang 'O eggplant bush, O eggplant bush.' " Some dramatic subplots threaten to overwhelm the book's central themes (Luz's father, whom she believes never loved her, abandoned the family; her friend Rosita's uncle abuses Rosita's blind mother and also runs a drug ring in which Rome becomes peripherally involved), but Polikoff makes the sights, smells and sound of Puerto Rico come to life. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 05/10/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Genre: Children's
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