cover image The Moonstones

The Moonstones

Jean Thesman. Viking Children's Books, $15.99 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-670-87959-5

Thesman's (The Ornament Tree; Where the Road Ends) latest novel explores the delicate balance between family duty and self-preservation. Jane Douglas, 15, and her mother, Abby, have traveled from Seattle to Abby's bleak Puget Sound hometown to put Jane's grandmother's estate in order. There they are joined by their manipulative and unpleasant California relatives: Jane's shrill Aunt Norma and her daughter, Ricki. With her caked-on make-up, short skirts and frank nastiness (""I don't like competition. In fact, I don't like girls very much""), Ricki is an unappetizing companion. Yet Ricki's brand of self-centered daring liberates the typically obedient Jane, who joins her cousin in forbidden nighttime forays to a seedy local amusement park. There--in a turn of events sure to appeal to die-hard romantics--Jane meets Carey, a good-looking boy she has seen around town. In the days and nights that follow, Jane and Carey's secret romance provides a gentle counterpoint to the escalating hostilities between Jane's mother and aunt. When Norma and Ricki's selfish behavior threatens Abby's health and sanity, it is Jane's new-found independence that saves the day. The protagonist's emerging strength compensates for Thesman's occasionally trite prose (e.g., ""Anger engulfed me again, and I couldn't speak"") and villainesses who--though delightfully despicable--are cartoonishly characterized (Ricki has body odor so pungent that Jane moves out of their shared room). A breezy summer fling. Ages 10-up. (Sept.)