cover image The Jell-O Syndrome

The Jell-O Syndrome

Winifred Morris. Atheneum Books, $0 (159pp) ISBN 978-0-689-31190-1

Morris's new novel runs a poor second to her engrossing debut in With Magical Horses to Ride. The characters seem exaggerated; the climax, contrived. Stephanie (Steve) is the narrator, full of herself as an all-around A student, scorning female peers who moon over boys. Steve, a senior, has never had a date but fears she's becoming a ""Jell-O head'' like other girls when she's attracted to Keith, a new student. The story dwells on a required beauty contest for students and its harrowing effects on the hopeful who lose as well as on Steve. (For a scholar, her language is surprising: ``They had so much more confidence than me'' exemplifies recurring lapses.) The denouement is too pat, arrived at after an exchange of confidences between Steve and a girl soured by faithless boyfriends. This conversation is hard to believe, suggesting a wisdom beyond the character's grasp. (12up)