cover image Love and Other Four-Letter Words

Love and Other Four-Letter Words

Carolyn Mackler. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $14.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32743-5

Though first-time novelist Mackler creates a sympathetic 16-year-old narrator filled with realistic anxieties, her dependence on familiar themes and plot development, plus heavy-handed pop culture references, makes for a lukewarm read. When Sammie's parents decide on a trial separation, she calls it ""the obliteration of the belief that Mom and Dad were the 7th Heaven,we-have-problems-yet-we-gleefully-work-through-them type of parents."" Her Cornell professor father heads off on sabbatical in California, while her mother, a stifled artist, yanks Sammie with her from Ithaca to New York City. The protagonist must deal with adjusting to a new city, a depressed mother who can't get out of bed, and only seems to manage monosyllabic responses to her father's phone conversations. When her narcissistic best friend, Kitty, comes to visit, they fight and Kitty leaves in a huff citing "" irreconcilable differences."" Sammie finds support in a new bond with Phoebe, an offbeat dog lover, and Eli, the hippie son of her mother's college roommate. Readers will relate to Sammie's internalized self-loathing; she's self-conscious about everything from her name, to her over-developed figure, to her only-been-kissed-once status. But they will likely predict the exact moment when Sammie and Eli will share their first kiss and when her father will finally reappear to sort out built-up tensions. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)