cover image FRICTION


E. R. Frank, . . Atheneum/Jackson, $16.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-689-85384-5

Frank (America; Life Is Funny) insightfully addresses the topics of teen sexuality and child abuse as she delves into the muddled emotions of a 12-year-old girl. Narrator Alex, a tomboy, feels comfortable and secure at her alternative school, where students and faculty are like family. Things change, however, with the arrival of a new student, Stacy, who insinuates that there is something more than friendship between Alex and classmate Tim, who has always been like a brother to Alex. Then Stacy claims that their teacher, Simon, is a "pervert," who "likes" Alex. Alex, angered by Stacy's outlandish remarks, nonetheless can't help wondering if there's a grain of truth in Stacy's lies. Tension escalates, threatening both Alex's friendship with Tim and Simon's professional reputation. Frank perceptively captures the ambiguity that arises with the awakening of sexual feelings, especially as she describes the nuances of Alex's relationships with Tim and with Simon—and the darker motives behind Stacy's behavior. The ending may confuse readers, and a couple of scenes with Simon seem unnecessary and inconsistent with his earlier portrayal (he sleeps beside Alex in a tent and later leaves Alex with the class's food order to make out with his girlfriend in a car), but these flaws hardly detract from the sensitivity with which Frank handles the bulk of the novel. Rather than coloring innocence and guilt in black and white, the author invites readers to explore the large gray area between truth and falsehood. Sure to spark heated discussions, this provocative novel is a reminder that words spoken carelessly can have lasting, painful repercussions. Ages 12-up. (May)