cover image Crooked


Laura McNeal / Author, Tom McNeal / Author, Tom McNeal / Joint Author
Alternating the perspective of Clara and Amos, ninth-graders coming of age, Tom McNeal (author of the adult novel, Goodnight, Nebraska) and wife, Laura McNeal, convincingly capture the dynamics of adolescent relationships but muddy the novel with a problematic subplot. Clara Wilson's biggest worry is her crooked nose--until her best friend ditches her, and her parents suddenly separate. Amos MacKenzie's father is dying, his mother is obsessed with religion and his buddy Bruce stalks an intangible girl. Clara and Amos both become targets of town thugs Charles and Eddie Tripp. Readers may question the validity of a few key scenes involving these shady characters: for instance, when Amos attempts to save some snow sculptures from the Tripps' wrath, the brothers beat him unconscious with a baseball bat and Amos is consequently elevated to hero status at school; Clara, an otherwise clear-thinking teen, voluntarily takes a ride with Eddie Tripp when he shows up at her house uninvited--even though she has seen him stealing and knows of his involvement with Amos's injury. Without much buildup to a motivation for such actions by the protagonists, scenes such as these undermine the teens' solid characterizations elsewhere. The book's strength lies in the interactions between Clara and Amos and their relationships with their respective families. Ages 12-up. (Dec.)