cover image Strawberry Hill

Strawberry Hill

A. LaFaye. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $16.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82441-8

Set in 1974, LaFaye's (The Year of the Sawdust Man) meandering novel focuses on 12-year-old Raleia Pendel, who is preoccupied by an idyllic view of the past. Spending a summer in Tidal, Maine, a town preserved (as a tourist attraction) to look as it did when hit by a tidal wave in 1911, Raleia feels like a misfit. While she dreams about fancy dress balls, tea parties and proper etiquette, she criticizes her parents' ""hippie"" behavior and her brother's attraction to slimy creatures and unusual food combinations. Taunted by the neighborhood children, she takes their dare and ventures onto the property of town recluse Ian Rutherford and discovers an unlikely companion. Rebuked by Rutherford, Raleia nevertheless pursues what she believes to be a genteel elder statesman. Through their tenuous friendship, Raleia discovers that his immersion in the past is as unrealistic as her picture of the good old days, when parents spent more time worrying about their children than picketing. LaFaye's minutely detailed descriptions of the setting distract from Raleia's complex emotional drama, and readers may have difficulty understanding Rutherford's erratic behavior. They may also have trouble understanding Raleia's wholesale rejection of her culture. Still, the moving final chapters in which Raleia discovers the truth about Rutherford's situation and draws closer to her family are worth the effort to reach. Ages 8-12. (June)