cover image HEAD GAMES


Mariah Fredericks, . . Atheneum/Jackson, $15.95 (260pp) ISBN 978-0-689-85532-0

This ambitious second novel from the author of The True Meaning of Cleavage covers roughly the same terrain—alienation among affluent New York City teens—with mixed success. The story starts strong, capturing the obsessive pull that an online computer game has on 14-year-old Judith Ellis, who freaks when one of her online opponents attacks the character she's playing. Too coincidentally the "psycho killer" from the game turns out to be her "juvenile delinquent" neighbor, Jonathan. Identities revealed, the two drop the online game to create their own, to the horror of Judith's overprotective, divorced mother. This budding friendship helps to compensate for Judith's isolation at school, where she's been dumped by former best friend, Leia. Judith dreads walking past Leia's apartment, though the author does not reveal until late in the story that the heroine is not running from her ex-friend but rather from the memory of having been attacked in the lobby of Leia's building (an attack she has kept secret from all but Jonathan). In an interesting twist, Jonathan helps Judith confront her fear; the development of their relationship is the novel's greatest strength. However, Judith's possibly confused sexuality is one of several threads left undeveloped, and the subplot in which she tutors a "fat, rich... airhead" has a predictable outcome. Smooth writing and authentic dialogue add an unnaturally quiet tone to a book that brims with conflicts but never quite manages to bring them into sharp relief. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)