cover image Bad Tickets

Bad Tickets

Kathleen O'Dell. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.99 (231pp) ISBN 978-0-375-83801-9

In O'Dell's (the Agnes Parker series) latest, 16-year-old Catholic schoolgirl Mary Margaret has dumped her ""boring"" and chaste friend, Elizabeth, for the dangerously fun Jane. Together, the new friends set out in search of freedom and a ""good ticket""-a life that sidesteps dullness and domesticity. (Jane mockingly considers Mary Margaret's crush, Mitchell, a ""bad ticket"": ""I'm Mitch. Let me introduce you to your ironing board and your seventeen children."") All seems hunky-dory when the girls start hanging out at a commune-like ""house full of hippies and drifters,"" with plenty of hashish brownies (""They taste, I don't know, like she got the flour confused with fertilizer,"" Mary Margaret thinks), make out sessions and booze to go around. But when things get out of hand and Jane winds up pregnant by an older boy who doesn't love her, Mary Margaret begins to see that this brand of freedom may not be all that it's cracked up to be. The story is set in 1967, but the book's characters can seem strangely inauthentic, as though they've been plucked from the modern world and dropped into the Summer of Love; readers may have a hard time stomaching sometimes stilted patches of period dialogue (""Are you going to light up that joint or are we going to contemplate it in stillness?""). Still, Mary Margaret's awkward, budding relationship with Mitchell feels genuine, as do her tender feelings toward her siblings. And the internal conflict between her traditional upbringing and the insistent pull of '60s culture should provide some food for thought. Ages 12-up.