Shutta Crum, . . Clarion, $15 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-618-23477-6
Set in a small town in Beulah County, Ky., in 1967, Crum's involving first novel unfolds through the perspective of a fiesty, thoroughly appealing 12-year-old narrator. Jessie lives with her single mother and spends much of her time with contemplative Robert and his endearingly eccentric four-year-old brother, Baby Blue. Soon after the story opens, the three meet Miss Woodruff, a kind VISTA worker who has come to the economically depressed area as a soldier in President Johnson's War on Poverty. Jessie, engaged in a constant struggle to stay out of trouble ("Jessie, Dickie may really rile you up good, but you've got to stop using your fists to make a point," a sympathetic neighbor tells her), tackles other dilemmas as well. The heroine is determined to discover who her father is, raise money to help Robert get the new eyeglasses he desperately needs and to "figure out... how to get a nicer grandmother [and] how to control my temper as I'd promised Mama over and over that I would." The ways in which she achieves her goals make for engrossing reading, and the catalysts frequently come in the form of the novel's darker personalities, including Robert's alcoholic father, mean-spirited Dickie and his sinister dad. Some difficult themes make this more appropriate for mature readers. Through Jessie's authentic, resounding voice, the author ably balances the humorous and the heart-wrenching as she presents an affecting portrait of memorable characters in trying times. Ages 9-13.
Reviewed on: 04/21/2003