cover image BITTERSWEET


C. Drew Lamm, . . Clarion, $15 (214pp) ISBN 978-0-618-16443-1

Taylor Wickham, the high school junior who narrates Lamm's (Pirates ) moving first novel, is an impassioned painter and an all-around left-of-center kid. But Taylor has hit a serious creative block. Lovingly raised by her grandmother since infancy, when her mother was killed by a drunk driver, Taylor is devastated when a stroke incapacitates Grams and leaves her unable even to recognize Taylor. The crisis with Grams widens the emotional distance between Taylor and her father ("There's no chance he'll ever get to know me because I don't show up when he's around. This boring girl shows up instead," Taylor laments). Readers who wish they belonged to artistic families will relish Taylor's descriptions of Grams in her prime (she used a cookie jar to store her favorite words, written on colored strips of paper, and knew how "to shout 'Yes!' to life"); nearly everyone will empathize with Taylor's grief and rage. If the creative environment of Taylor's home seems a bit belabored, Taylor's desperation to paint again has a stirring life-and-death quality, whether Taylor is furiously finger-painting with her acrylics or trying to write instead. Plot lines about friendships and relations with boys deftly round out Lamm's balanced, carefully observed story about cycles of growth and regeneration. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)