cover image If You Leave Me

If You Leave Me

Maureen Wartski. Fawcett Books, $4.5 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-449-70459-2

This novel gives an unsettling, acrid portrayal of high-school overachievers. Lisa Carstairs, reeling from a break-up and struggling to get through advanced-placement physics, is vulnerable to the charms of Alex Lavarre, a new student. When he invites her to join his newly created ""Achievers Club,"" open to only the ""brightest and most beautiful"" students at Newford High, Lisa is walking on air--but soon comes crashing to earth as the relationship becomes abusive. Wartski (Belonging) paints ambition and achievement in broad strokes and black-and-white terms, dwelling on the neuroses and self-destructive behavior lurking behind some of these highly motivated students. She uncovers some painful truths about the 1990s high-school scene, but most are lost in cliched, melodramatic phrases (""Nobody ever loved anyone like I love you. You were the one light in my darkness""). Alex's volatile nature (he plays Russian roulette in front of Lisa when she refuses to date him any longer, saying ""I might as well shoot myself because I'll never be happy again"") is as overdramatized as his parents' coldheartedness (""Hang around with losers, and you'll be tagged a deadbeat. There's noplace in life for fools or failure,"" says Alex's father). Unlike other manic characters that seduce by charm and cleverness, Alex uses trite lines that may leave readers wondering why bright Lisa would fall for them. Although the villain does get taken to court, he gets parole for five years--little comfort to teens who have been stalked or have rejected unwelcome advances. Ages 11-13. (Nov.)