cover image UP ON CLOUD NINE


Anne Fine, . . Delacorte, $15.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73009-9

Fine (The Tulip Touch) mixes equal measures of humor and poignancy into this novel about a friendship between two very different yet inseparable boys. The tale opens as narrator Ian sits at the hospital bedside of the unconscious Stol (short for Stuart Oliver), who broke numerous bones and sustained a concussion when he fell out of a window. "He looks so—dead—for someone who has always been so alive, spilling with words and ideas," notes Ian. "If he went now, all his past stuff would shrivel, even in our minds." So Ian begins jotting a "Stol biography." The narrative shifts smoothly between past and present as it pieces together anecdotes of the boys' shared time, and a complex picture of a highly imaginative, somewhat desperate and thoroughly engaging Stol starts to emerge. As Ian describes how often his friend stays with him, sometimes for days at a stretch while Stol's parents obsess over their work, readers get their first clues about the darker side to Stol's life. Other indications come through in what Stol's teachers call a healthy case of "mythomania"; it's "like sitting around a telly that ran a different soap opera every day. He had so many lives," Ian reports. Ian's efforts to protect his friend culminate in a scene that is at once comical and moving. If the adults here come off as a bit pat, the fully rounded boys at the novel's center more than make up for them. Ages 10-up. (June)