cover image Chinese Handcuffs

Chinese Handcuffs

Chris Crutcher. Greenwillow Books, $17.99 (202pp) ISBN 978-0-688-08345-8

Dillon, 16, is a winning triathlete trying to live with the fact of his older brother Preston's suicide, which he witnessed. Preston left behind a girlfriend (and a baby) whom Dillon has always loved; he is also increasingly interested in Jennifer, the top girls' basketball player, a lifelong victim of sexual abuse by her father and later her stepfather. Carved out in straight narratives, flashbacks and letters to Preston recapping events, Crutcher, author of the well-received The Crazy Horse Electric Game , Running Loose and Stotan! , has written a weighty, introspective novel. Because of the book's complex structure, and because the issues are so gritty and realistic, parts of the resolution become melodramatic in contrast. Each characters' actions are undermined by the author's habit of introducing traits or quirks right before exploiting them for dramatic effect. Furthermore, pregnancy twice sets off suicide attempts. Nevertheless, the book is riveting despite those clumsy moments; like the triathlete who takes second or third place, the challenges and the dazzling effort displayed during the event more than compensate for a less-than-perfect finish. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)