cover image The Watcher

The Watcher

James Howe. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (184pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80186-0

In this intense psychological drama, Howe (Bunnicula) delves into the minds of three troubled teens whose lives converge at a seaside resort. Twelve-year-old Evan and lifeguard Chris arrive at the beach loaded down with worries. Evan fears that his parents are on the brink of divorce, and Chris cannot shake the feeling he is living in the shadow of his older brother, who died before Chris was born. Then there is Margaret. Nicknamed Harriet the Spy by Evan's younger sister and described as a ""broken shell"" by his mother, the strange, silent girl sits at the edge of the sand inventing stories about the people she observes. Attracted to both Evan and Chris, the ""watcher"" incorporates them into a disturbing fantasy. Segments of her fairy tale about a captive princess are interleaved with scenes depicting the boys' individual struggles. The characters remain separated from one another until the book's riveting final chapter. In a startling turn of events, Evan and Chris become the ""watchers"" of Margaret, witnessing her torment and saving her from her abusive father. A blend of allegory and stark realism, this grim story offers a host of ironies for readers to explore. If the plot comes off as manufactured or melodramatic, the emotions of characters remain genuine and haunting. Ages 12-up. (May)