cover image Toughing It

Toughing It

Nancy Springer. Harcourt Children's Books, $10.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-15-200008-0

This strange book starts out as almost unbearably painful and ends as unbelievably blithe. Tuff is riding with his older brother, Dillon, on the back of his dirt bike, when Dillon is absurdly killed--shot by a rigged gun along a mountain path. Dillon's death is particularly devastating to Tuff; the boy has no father and lives with an apparently cruel, alcoholic mother, her brutish boyfriend and a legion of bellicose, underfed half-brothers and sisters. Springer quickly establishes the difficulties her characters face in trying just to get by without much money, power or mobility. Vowing to track down the murderer, Tuff leaves home, whereupon his mother suddenly discloses the identity of his father. The grim scenario is swiftly lightened, with the man named as Tuff's father proving to have the forbearance of Gandhi, the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes and the marksmanship of a Clint Eastwood character. It doesn't much matter when he divulges that he's not Tuff's dad after all, because he's willing to play the part. The mother, meanwhile, turns out to have only Tuff's best interests at heart; the villains are caught; and Tuff finds both a love interest and peace of mind. Far from satisfying. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)