KING OF THE MILD FRONTIER
Chris Crutcher, . . HarperCollins/ Greenwillow, $16.99 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-06-050249-2
In this funny, bittersweet and brutally honest autobiography, Crutcher recounts his journey from a boyhood misspent in remote Cascade, Idaho ("The information highway was a single-lane logging road winding through steep mountains, dead ending at some nameless 'crick' ") to his present life as a writer. The author displays the same impeccable comedic timing that characterizes his young adult novels. Among the many laugh-out-loud episodes he recalls are his older brother's knack for always gaining the upper hand (he talks young Chris into peeing down the heat-register in the living room and convinces him that Jesus had an "older, smarter brother" named "Esus"), plus the author's penchant for "perty girls," which lost him his front teeth when he tried to impress a girl while playing softball. Nothing tops his misadventures in small-town sports ("If you didn't show up for football practice on the first day of your freshman year, they simply came and got you"), including his days as a terrified 123-pound freshman ("with all the muscle definition of a chalk outline") and his initiation as a letterman (involving oysters, an olive and a large dose of humiliation). It is precisely this sense of humility that allows readers to laugh with young Chris, rather than at him. Crutcher can also turn from hilarity to heartache, as when he discusses his mother's alcoholism or his own legendary temper (which plagued hm in his childhood but which he attributes to the compassion he brings to his work as a family therapist). Readers will clasp this hard-to-put-down book to their hearts even as they laugh sympathetically. Ages 13-up.
Reviewed on: 03/03/2003