cover image GRASS ANGEL


Julie Schumacher, . . Delacorte, $17.99 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73073-0

Anyone who has ever felt abandoned will relate to Frances Cressen, the 11-year-old heroine of Schumacher's (The Body Is Water ) introspective and funny first novel for young people. While Frances's widowed mother seeks spiritual fulfillment at a retreat in Oregon (and takes Frances's seven-year-old brother Everett with her), Frances insists on staying behind to attend day camp in Ohio with her best friend Agnes. Her mother arranges for Frances to stay with her eccentric Aunt Blue in a cottage on the edge of a graveyard. At day camp, Frances is tormented by a bully named Chip, who accuses the girl's mother of joining a "cult," "where everyone gets brainwashed." Inevitably, his words plant seeds of doubt. The author paints a humorous picture of Frances becoming plagued by questions about her mother's real motive for going to Oregon and if Everett is being held prisoner. Will he and her mother stay in Oregon forever? Schumacher convincingly depicts the not-always-rational, up-and-down emotions of preadolescence with humor and compassion. Frances's close relationship with her brother comes through in their brief exchanges ("If I bring [the telescope] to Oregon I can see you with it," Everett says), and readers will pick up on the endearing qualities of the girl's eccentric aunt before Frances does. The protagonist's moods are as changeable as the world she perceives around her. Moments of contentment seems as fleeting as the imprint of her body when she makes "grass angels." Nonetheless, Frances does find something permanent to grasp: the steadfast love of her immediate and extended family, glimmers of which readers will subtly detect throughout the novel, but which come to light for Frances at the book's uplifting conclusion. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)