cover image A Piece of Heaven

A Piece of Heaven

Sharon Dennis Wyeth. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $14.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-679-88535-1

Wyeth (Something Beautiful; Once on This River) paints a vivid picture of inner-city life but compromises character development to emphasize the downward slide of the heroine's dysfunctional family. The novel opens on the eve of Mahalia Moon's 13th birthday. The cause of Mrs. Moon's chronic depression (which leads to her admission to a hospital on Mahalia's big day) is as vaguely sketched as Mahalia's brother Otis's subsequent involvement in a crime, for which he is arrested. Mahalia fares better than her kin and finds stability in her afternoon job doing yard work for a kindly music teacher. Unfortunately, Mahalia's single working mother and sassy older brother come across as two-dimensional victims. The heroine's relationship with her employer, Mr. Jackson, proves to be the most convincing and moving aspect of the novel, as her effort to clear Mr. Jackson's yard of clutter reflects her desire to create order out of her chaotic home environment. Rather than providing a pat resolution, the author invites readers to experience how Mahalia comes to terms with hardships, lets go of what she cannot change and holds onto dreams of a better life. Those who can get past the overplayed dramas sprinkled throughout the book will find inspiration in Mahalia's personal triumphs. Ages 9-12. (Jan.)