cover image The Bones in the Cliff

The Bones in the Cliff

James Stevenson. Greenwillow Books, $15.99 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13745-8

The prolific picture book author and illustrator here unveils an utterly gripping first novel. Living on a New England island with his alcoholic father, 11-year-old Pete has strict orders to meet each ferry and search the disembarking crowd for a large, cigar-smoking man; if the man appears, Pete is to call his father. Pete doesn't know exactly what or whom his father is hiding from, but he remembers all too well an incident he witnessed two years earlier, when his father was beaten by two men in the Bronx. Pete's is a dismal, lonely existence: his mother is hospitalized with severe depression, and his father chronically ignores him and sometimes beats him. But the boy's days brighten considerably when he meets Rootie, a spunky girl who takes Pete on a string of diverting adventures. So pleasantly distracting is Rootie's company that the otherwise diligent Pete fails to meet the boat on which the feared man finally arrives. This coincidence aside, Stevenson's novel introduces a believable and sympathetic protagonist caught in a heart-wrenching situation. A number of unanswered questions and several deftly crafted moments of suspense will keep even reluctant readers rapt-and occasionally white-knuckled. Ages 10-up. (May)