cover image Wringer


Jerry Spinelli, Cliff Nielsen. HarperCollins, $17.99 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-06-024913-7

Tender scenes contrast with barbaric images in this spellbinding story about rites of passage. In Palmer's hometown, 10-year-old boys are awarded the time-honored privilege of becoming ""wringers."" At the most anticipated event of the year, the annual pigeon shoot, they are in charge of discarding dead pigeons and twisting the necks of wounded birds. Most of Palmer's friends await their turn with bloodthirsty eagerness, but nine-year-old Palmer is flooded with dread. While the community of Wagner appears in some ways to be a typical small town, albeit with more than its share of rednecks, Spinelli (Maniac Magee) bends the framework of normalcy to conjure a surrealistic atmosphere. Boys are typecast as violent aggressors while girls are somewhat wooden creatures embodying innocence. Animal rights activists are conspicuously absent; local customs are treated with an almost religious reverence. Somehow making improbable events seem plausible, the author maintains a sense of balance showing the best and worst sides of humanity. His eloquently wrought narrative alternates between allegory and realism, tracing Palmer's emotionally arduous journey towards manhood. Ages 8-12. (Aug.)