cover image Desire Lines

Desire Lines

Jack Gantos. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-374-31772-0

Walker, a pensive loner, avoids confrontation as much as possible-until the son of a fundamentalist preacher accuses him of being gay. Pressured by both religious fanatics and his peers, the 16-year-old points a finger at a pair of high school lesbians, Karen and Jennifer, hoping to shift attention away from himself. His act of betrayal puts an end to his own harassment, but causes irreparable damage to the girls. Gantos (Heads or Tails Stories from the Sixth Grade) projects an unsettling image of cowardice and survival of the toughest. There are no heroes in this story; even victims Karen and Jennifer act mercilessly, ridiculing Walker long before he speaks out against them. Although his language and ability to conjure a scene are frequently remarkable, the author reduces the players of this drama to near-stereotypes whose ""desire lines"" (chosen paths) are not all that different; in doing so he transmits a one-sided (and pessimistic) view of humanity. Readers may find a more balanced analysis of a modern-day witch hunt in Bette Greene's The Drowning of Stephan Jones. Ages 14-up. (Mar.)