cover image Lush


Natasha Friend. Scholastic Paperbacks, $16.99 (178pp) ISBN 978-0-439-85346-0

Thirteen-year-old Sam's father ""would rather drink than breathe"" in Friend's (Perfect) intense, touching problem novel. Sam's mother deals by doing yoga, her grandmother tells her not to ""air our dirty laundry in public,"" and Sam is too ashamed to talk to her friends. So she starts leaving notes at the library-notes that are answered by someone named ""A.J.K."" Though she does not get exactly the responses she needs, Sam is able to open up about what is happening at home and get support when she needs it most. It is easy to empathize with Sam, who both resents her father and longs to have him back in her life. In the background, the author also creates an authentic school setting, in which boys often harass girls over physical attributes, and girls turn on one another in cruel ways; these details ground the novel and demonstrate why Sam may feel so alone. Readers will not be surprised when her father's behavior takes a tragic turn, though they may find the plot twist extreme. They will be touched by Sam's devotion to her younger brother, though, who bears the brunt of the tragedy, and a tender conversation she has with her mother, in which she asks, ""What did I get from Dad?"" and learns ""things I never knew"" about him. In the end, the author gives no easy answers, but readers who need more help will find resources for hotlines, Web sites and related books. Ages 12-up.