cover image The House You Pass on the Way

The House You Pass on the Way

Jacqueline Woodson. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $14.95 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32189-1

""Sitting big and silent with all her family's land spread out beyond it,"" Staggerlee Canan's house, once belonging to her famous grandparents, stands as a refuge from the townspeople's gossip about her parents' ""mixed"" marriage. Here the pensive 14-year-old can quietly contemplate all the ways she is different from her classmates and her older sister, ""smart, popular"" Dotti. Staggerlee has never had a close friend besides Hazel back in sixth grade, the first and only girl she ever kissed. But when her cousin Tyler (called ""Trout"") comes to spend the summer, the two girls are drawn together by their common heritage and longings. As soft-spoken and poetic as the heroine herself, Woodson's (I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This) prose gracefully expresses Staggerlee's slow emergence from isolation as she and Trout grapple with their shared secret (Trout traces in the dirt by the river: ""Staggerlee and Trout were here today. Maybe they will and maybe they won't be gay.""). Minor characters--Staggerlee's gregarious father, her independent, conspicuously white mother (""it's only three, four white women in all of Sweet Gum"") and her four diverse siblings--add depth and complexity to the heroine's small world. Using a nondidactic approach, the author gently probes questions regarding racism and homosexuality in this poignant tale about growing pains and the ongoing process of self-discovery. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)