cover image Stone Cold

Stone Cold

Pete Hautman. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81759-5

Although this tale of a teenager's descent into the world of high-stakes poker lacks the labyrinthine yet crystal-clear plotting of Mr. Was, Hautman nonetheless holds a wild card in his hand. Denn has always been obsessed with money, but his life is otherwise normal. He has a thriving landscaping business and a longtime girlfriend. But both of these quickly disappear when Denn discovers poker. He moves from living-room games with a group of boozy tough kids to the $1000 tables at a local casino, in and out of Gamblers Anonymous and finally to a private game where the sky's the limit. The wild card is that Hautman does not turn this into a problem novel. Instead, it's the story of a boy who finds he has talent and works to develop it. Despite accusations of immorality and addiction, Denn sees himself as a child prodigy. He studies hard--identifying his opponents' ""tells"" and learning the odds for completing different hands--and he wins continuously. This bitter, almost amoral novel ends with Denn, at age 16, living alone and owning the casino. He struggles to explain the appeal of the game, why it's worth giving up his normal life: ""Money and winning were important, sure, but they weren't what kept me awake at night. It was the action, the ebb and flow of fate, the expressions on the faces of the players, the sounds and smells of the casino. But most of all it was the cards."" Swift and salacious, Hautman's latest compellingly echoes gambling's siren call. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)