cover image THE CHAIN LETTER


Julie Schumacher, . . Delacorte, $15.95 (195pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73169-0

In this slice-of-life novel set in Minnesota, Schumacher (Grass Angel ) traces the string of bad luck that follows 12-year-old Livvie after she tears up the chain letter that has been sent to her anonymously. Unlike her best friend Joyce, Livvie is not superstitious by nature. Still, she can't help connecting her refusal to answer the letter with the series of upsetting minor catastrophes that follow: her applesauce "explode[s]" in the school cafeteria, she flattens her P.E. teacher while vaulting over the pommel horse and finds out that her neighbor, "weird" Phil Finch, wants to date her mother. Moreover, Livvie's misfortune seems to be contagious. Joyce gets mono, then Livvie's Great-uncle Jim dies unexpectedly. It is up to readers to decide whether fate, Livvie's personal choices or both cause the disasters; but the author hints that the heroine does have the capacity to turn her luck around. Featuring a cast of well-defined, slightly quirky characters, this novel appeals to all five senses. Besides commiserating with Livvie's anxieties, readers can almost feel her physical pain when she breaks her toe, and they will share her distaste for her mother's cooking. A subplot involving a 6th-grade project, the construction of a giant snow maze, adds an interesting and metaphoric dimension to the plot, which neatly ties to Livvie's realization that she can take charge of her destiny. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)