cover image FREE RADICAL


Claire Rudolf Murphy, . . Clarion, $15 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-618-11134-3

A 15-year-old boy in contemporary Alaska discovers that his mom is a fugitive, hiding out from the FBI because of her part in an anti-Vietnam War protest at Berkeley that accidentally killed a college student. Luke is even more upset to learn that she plans to turn herself in; she has been wracked with guilt for years but, widowed while pregnant with Luke, she felt bound to care for her son. Now that she has remarried and Luke is a teenager, she arranges a plea bargain that will involve a prison sentence. Luke, who has conveniently seen a television segment about victim-offender mediation (wherein criminals and their victims meet and talk for the purpose of achieving emotional closure), feels inspired by his new friendship with Amy, who has been through similar mediation herself. Amy was paralyzed when a drunk driver hit her, but she and her family have forgiven the driver. Luke prompts his mother and her attorney to meet the relatives of the boy whose death she helped cause. Murphy's (Gold Star Sister) research is evident—her descriptions of a prison visit, for example, brim with detail. Her storytelling, however, relies frequently on coincidence (e.g., Amy moves to northern California shortly before Luke and his mother go there for her court appearance) and contrivance (Luke speculates, hollowly, on parallels between a raucous game of paintball and military combat). Earnest but ultimately artificial. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)