cover image The Tulip Touch

The Tulip Touch

Anne Fine. Little Brown and Company, $15.45 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-316-28325-0

Natalie and her parents know that Tulip, who lives on the impoverished farm next door, is a compulsive liar. Still, they are spellbound by the odd, imaginative details of her stories (""the Tulip touch,"" as Natalie's sympathetic father calls it). Even though Tulip tries to hide the abuse she suffers from her own father, her anger and humiliation reverberate during the years she is best friends with Natalie, who narrates this exceptionally insightful tale set in Fine's (Alias Madame Doubtfire; Flour Babies) native Britain. As Tulip's games grow nastier and more intense (her ideas of fun include badgering strangers and setting fires), Natalie comes to her ""full senses"" and makes a break, suddenly realizing that although it may be too late to change Tulip's life, there is till time to save her own. Fine offers a fascinating study of a much-victimized child striking out at the world. Her novel is unusual in that it offers both an insider's and an outsider's point of view as Natalie shifts from Tulip's loyal sidekick to removed observer. Provocative moral questions arise from this chilling portrait. Is Tulip's fate sealed? Could Natalie's parents have helped her? Natalie, riddled with pity and guilt, remains unsure--a realistic conclusion to a story that does justice to the complexities of its theme. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)