cover image THE CREEK


Jennifer L. Holm, . . HarperCollins, $15.99 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-06-000133-9

Holm's (Our Only May Amelia; Boston Jane) contemporary suspense novel is less successful than her historical fiction, but she creates here another smart, self-assured heroine. When infamous juvenile delinquent Caleb Devlin returns to Mockingbird Lane, in a manicured suburb of Philadelphia, rumors of his past plus a string of gory events convince 12-year-old Penny and her crew of male friends that he's targeting them. The novel effectively conveys a sense of Penny and her friends balancing on the precipice of adolescence, as the protagonist simultaneously revels in building forts at the creek with the boys and also mourns the transformation of her ex–best friend, Amy, who exchanges their former games of chase for nail polish and slinky dresses. But as the tension escalates, the author hints at Penny's discovery of her own femininity and the power it wields ("This outfit made her feel different, wilder, like she was a cat that had just figured out how to climb trees"). Holm convincingly portrays the peer dynamics and the unwritten rules of childhood play (e.g., Penny does not confide some of Caleb's alleged crimes—including stealing and stuffing her pet, Mr. Cat—to her mother in order to preserve the kids' freedom at the creek). Despite the threatening atmosphere, however, the mystery proves less successful; some clues seem obscure or tacked-on, and the solution feels hollow. Unfortunately, as likable as Penny may be, she never confesses her own part in a tragedy by the creek. Ages 12-up. (June)