cover image A Thief in the Village: And Other Stories

A Thief in the Village: And Other Stories

James Berry. Orchard Books (NY), $0 (148pp) ISBN 978-0-531-05745-2

The phrases in these stories, all set in Jamaica, are musical in print, even before they are read aloud. ""I know total-total that if I had my own bike, the Wheels-and-Brake Boys wouldn't treat me like that,'' Becky tells readers in ``Becky and the Wheels-and-Brake-Boys,'' and, with those words, her determination is established. By the end of the tale, she gets her wish and rides alongside the boys who had seemed to her fearless. ``Usually I think I live in the poorest back-o'-wall bush place,'' begins the narrator of ``All Other Days Run into Sunday,'' a boy who knows that the mischief of the other days of the week always tries to creep into Sunday's calm specialness. In the title story, an honest man is maligned in such a way that the villagers may never again be so sure of themselves. Berry's prose is liquid and cool; in ``Fanso and Granny-Flo'' and elsewhere his descriptions are so original that the language is rendered meaningful and new: ``Fanso's comings and goings and concerns were so well woven in with his granny's, it was hard to tell he had a big secret worry.'' How better to express the phase when the young adult begins to pull away from childhood? The collection is epiphanic; each story wraps itself around ordinary incidents and transforms them into lore. Ages 12-up. (March)