cover image What I Believe

What I Believe

Norma Fox Mazer, . . Harcourt, $16 (169pp) ISBN 978-0-15-201462-9

Mazer (When She Was Good ) traces the ungluing of a suburbanite family in this emotionally taut book narrated by middle-schooler Vicki Marnet. Vicki, who has a passion for words, uses brief monologues and multiple forms of verse (including sestinas and pantoums) to express her own and her parents' feelings after her father loses his executive job and the family teeters on the brink of ruin—in financial and emotional terms. She describes her father's state of depression ("but dad/ doesn't/ do anything —/ too tired all the time./ mom can't even leave him alone,/ or won't") and crystallizes her mother's take-charge attitude ("Dad listened, his hands/ steepled. Mom did the talking./ 'We're putting the house/ up for sale. We have no choice./ We're drowning in debt. Drowning!"). Vicki, her older brothers and their parents move to the city, where Mrs. Marnet finds employment, but a cloud of despair still hovers over the family. Unable to face his failures, Vicki's father leaves home, and Vicki's room is subleased to a boarder in order to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Vicki stoops to desperate measures (she steals from their boarder), but she also makes a new friend and discovers the importance of confidences. These often poignant journal entries add up to a candid portrayal of how a teen's life can change overnight. Readers who are able to see beyond Vicki's gloom will discover how the protagonist's love of language proves to have a healing effect. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)