cover image KISSING THE RAIN


Kevin Brooks, . . Scholastic/Chicken House, $16.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-439-57742-7

Brooks's gritty and gripping third novel shares the noir style of his first book, Martyn Pig ¸ and also demonstrates the author's range. Here the attention-grabbing first-person narrative unspools as a funky, impressionistic hybrid of stream-of-consciousness and instant-messaging slang ("I dunno what it is—hate, monsterosity, bad ness—but whatever it is, whatever he's got, he wants to take it out on me"). The style may not be to everyone's taste, but it allows readers to get inside the head of 15-year-old narrator Mike "Moo" Nelson. The book opens on the night before Moo is due to perform a mysterious deed (which is revealed only at the novel's end) as he whiles away the hours by recalling the complicated chain of events that has led him to this moment. Overweight and nearly friendless, the teen has always sought solace on a bridge overlooking the local motorway. Then one night Moo witnesses what seems to be a road-rage incident, culminating in murder. The good news is that being a key witness in a police investigation earns Moo a respite from his classmates' bullying. The bad news is it places him dead center between two powerful forces: a police detective with a shady agenda and a hardened criminal who will do whatever it takes to avoid prison. To his credit, Brooks provides no quick and easy answers here, no sudden character transformations, and no miraculous weight-loss makeovers. But some readers will be disappointed by an ending that leaves to readers' imaginations just how far Moo has evolved. The book's ambiguous conclusion does leave open, however, the possibility that—for better or for worse—Moo may be ready to stop simply enduring events and take an active hand in them instead. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)