cover image AMERICA


E. R. Frank, . . Atheneum/Jackson, $18 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-689-84729-5

Frank's (Life Is Funny) well-crafted and moving story begins with a teenage America in a treatment facility after a suicide attempt and alternates between the present—mostly his therapy sessions with Dr. B.—and the past. Born to a crack addict mother, America was raised by kindly Mrs. Harper, the nanny of a rich white foster family who gave him up "after he started turning his color." The weekend before he starts kindergarten, he visits his birth mother in New York City, and she abandons him in a seedy apartment with his two young brothers. When the police find him years later and return him to Mrs. Harper, he's behind in school, swears constantly and has internalized the belief that he's bad. America is not a saint, but readers see glimmers of his intelligence (one heartbreaking series of scenes shows five-year-old America, unable to find a working telephone, writing Mrs. Harper's phone number everywhere so that he won't forget it), his sense of the poetic and even his kindness. His gradual progress through therapy is especially well orchestrated. The obstacles in his life seem insurmountable (after he returns to Mrs. Harper's, her half-brother repeatedly molests him and he flees to New York City again). But as Mrs. Harper is always telling America, there's "real meaning in the small things," and the author's ability to capture so much emotion in the details makes this book remarkable. For example, when America works up the courage to visit Mrs. Harper in the nursing home, her walls are covered with angels she painted to look like him. A powerful story of forgiveness—both of oneself and of others. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)