cover image HOUSE OF SPORTS


Marisabina Russo, . . HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $15.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-06-623803-6

In her first novel, picture-book author/artist Russo (Goodbye, Curtis) gets off to a slow start but goes on to accomplish a number of difficult feats. First, the author creates a protagonist who is not always likable but usually three-dimensional, so that readers will stay with the story; and second, Russo describes the hero's maturation convincingly and movingly. Jim, a seventh-grader, seems to care only about basketball, doing poorly at schoolwork despite his brains and resentful of the time the family spends with Nana, his colorful, well-liked grandmother. His pleasure in winning a spot on the traveling team dims: in short order, he receives a failing grade on an essay, Nana has a stroke and Jim's aging dog has a crippling accident. Finally, after recognizing that both Nana and his dog are dying, Jim takes a hard look at himself and the person he hopes to become. While the point here is clear from the beginning—Nana, an escapee of Hitler's Germany, is a vocal proponent of living one's life with passion and intelligence—Russo's execution is sure. The dialogue flows spontaneously, even minor characters have complexities, and the optimism expressed flows naturally from the storytelling. Ages 8-up. (Mar.)