cover image Slave Day

Slave Day

Rob Thomas. Simon & Schuster, $16 (188pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80206-5

Thomas's ambitious if not wholly successful second novel deals with all the complex issues (love, sex, friendship and the meaning of it all) visited in his promising Rats Saw God. The setting here is a Texas high school during ""Slave Day,"" when student council members and teachers are auctioned off, becoming slaves for the highest bidders. Offended by the racist premise of this apparently cherished school tradition, a mild-mannered senior calls for a walkout by his fellow African American students, but, at his mother's insistence, he is forced to attend-and decides that buying the first black student council president might be more effective anyway. Others have their own concerns: a nerdy student council member frets that no one will ""buy"" him; an unpopular teacher worries that a surly student has purchased him for revenge; a dance team member wonders why her boyfriend's best friend has bid on her. These characters are among the eight narrators whose interwoven first-person accounts of Slave Day form the novel. Various subplots ask readers to consider ethical questions (a teacher wrongly accuses a student of cheating; a student is, less probably, asked to tamper with financial documents via computer). Under the weight of so many characters and issues, and limited to a narrow perspective (a 12-hour day), the pacing is frequently sluggish and the examination of race relations isn't always hard-hitting. On the other hand, Thomas is so good at capturing teen language and responses that the book will be welcomed by readers looking for a reflection of their own struggles. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)