cover image GRAVEL QUEEN


Neal Shusterman, Tea Benduhn, . . S&S, $15.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-689-84994-7

In this contemporary romance, first-time author Benduhn presents the light side of homosexual love with mixed success. Aurin, Fred and Kenney, a close-knit trio comprised of two girls and a guy who've been friends since sixth grade, spend their lazy summer days in the park, ogling a group of Ultimate Frisbee players from their high school. Both Fred and Kenney have their eyes on handsome Grant. Narrator Aurin, on the other hand, develops a crush on Grant's cousin, Neila, an exotic-looking girl with "healthy-looking cappuccino-milkshake-colored skin" and a gravelly voice. After the trio becomes a quintet, tension mounts. Fred and Kenney compete for the attention of Grant, whose sexual inclinations remain unclear. Meanwhile, Aurin becomes intimately involved with Neila. Although conflicts do occur—mainly in the form of backbiting, family squabbles and fits of jealously—the author steers clear of any life-altering crises. Aurin comes to understand her sexuality better through her relationship with Neila, but other characters remain sketchily drawn, mainly serving the purpose of highlighting various aspects of Aurin's personality. The book's subject matter is timely, and Aurin's narrative contains bursts of comedy ("This scene would be like a John Waters film with the crazy overcontrolling best friend who acts like a mother," Aurin observes about Kenney). However, underdeveloped characterizations of the supporting cast and combined with uneven pacing detract from the novel's impact. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)