cover image Evil Encounter

Evil Encounter

Sonia Levitin. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $17 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80216-4

It's hard to believe that this overstuffed mystery was written by the gifted author of Journey to America and Escape from Egypt. Following her parents' divorce, Michelle has moved with her mother to California, and a teacher at her new school notices that Michelle is having trouble adjusting. Before long Michelle joins a therapy group lead by a maverick counselor named Luke, whose charisma almost--but not quite--blinds Michelle to his dubious ethics. A weekend workshop with the group at a remote estate moves from therapy to sex and drugs--and to Luke's murder. Soon after, Michelle's mother is arrested for the crime; Michelle, working pretty much on her own, uncovers the real culprits. Along the way Michelle copes with her father's infidelities, a growing intimacy with a sympathetic classmate and what may or may not be an eating disorder of her own. Levitin virtually frog-marches Michelle through this busy story, letting brief descriptions of Michelle's wardrobe take the place of the fluid, perceptive characterizations that typically grace her writing. Almost none of the many subplots are developed credibly, much less fully, and the main story line switches direction so frequently that readers are likely to lose patience. Ages 12-up. (June)