cover image Ash


Lisa Rowe Fraustino. Orchard Books (NY), $16.95 (171pp) ISBN 978-0-531-06889-2

Filling a notebook with diary entries addressed to his older brother, Ash, 15-year-old Wes recaps the harrowing events of the last couple of years, prior to Ash's being diagnosed as ``schizoid tended.'' Even as Wes conveys the distress, anger and sorrow he and his family experience, he paints a dense, vibrant picture of life in rural Maine. There his family owns and tends a motor lodge, participates in-and sometimes tries to avoid-services at the local Baptist church, and boogies at the VFW to the music of Ash's band. The narrative, unfortunately, lacks consistency, and genuinely moving or funny momments alternate with predictable, sometimes repetitious scenes. Wes's voice is convincing in its Maine colloquialisms, but can be grating as Fraustino (Grass and Sky) serves up forced jokes (e.g., the many snipes at Wes's sister and her boyfriend, ``the Hormone''; the crude drawings attributed to Wes). More seriously, she resorts to shorthand with respect to several of the novel's more weighty concerns; the topic of incest, for example, is raised several times but never probed. Despite these flaws, however, the novel is a memorable one, both in its colorful evocation of a very particular setting and in its heartfelt observations of a family's shared pain. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)