cover image My Tiki Girl

My Tiki Girl

Jennifer McMahon. Dutton Books, $16.99 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-525-47943-7

As McMahon's (Promise Not to Tell) uneven first YA novel begins, 10th-grader Maggie, the narrator, has ensconced herself in the dysfunctional family of her new best friend, Dahlia Wainwright, whose imbalanced mother uses dolls to ""predict the future, or maybe even control it."" While describing the Wainwrights' rituals in great and often burdensome detail, the author gradually reveals that the formerly popular Maggie has survived a car accident that killed her mother and has left her with scars, a limp and a terrible sense of guilt. Maggie admires Dahlia (who ""leaves traces of herself wherever she goes, the way a shooting star leaves a streak of light behind it""), and soon her feelings turn sexual. To this already freighted plot McMahon adds a story line about an improbably good band which the girls form with two classmates, both of whom seem cast much too conveniently. Although much of the story is far-fetched and ancillary characters are unconvincing, Maggie's feelings for Dahlia are believable, and lyrical descriptions buoy the prose. A satisfying end rewards readers who make it to the finish line. Ages 14-up.