cover image A Certain October

A Certain October

Angela Johnson. Simon & Schuster, $15.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-689-86505-3

Three-time Coretta Scott King Award%E2%80%93winner Johnson (Heaven) pens a story of dazzling immediacy set in Cleveland. Her keenly observant narrator, Scotty, 16, divides her days between attending school, dealing with her autistic younger brother, Keone; and hanging out with her friends Falcone and Misha at the Endangered Species Cafe. Scotty's chief concerns are planning for the upcoming homecoming dance and making a trip to visit Falcone's sister, Gina, who became a mother figure to Scotty after her mother died. But Scotty's world is turned upside down when she's in a train crash that kills three students, including her very recent crush, and puts Keone in a coma. Dazed, Scotty suffers from survivor's guilt ("Half of Keone's bones are broken. I got bruises and a twisted knee. Life is stupid"), fantasizing ways the crash could have been avoided. Realistic dialogue and a cast of vibrant characters give lively texture to Johnson's nonlinear narrative. Through minimal exposition and Scotty's singular voice, Johnson gracefully explores life's defining moments, whether painful or bittersweet, and how the world carries on, even when everything has changed. Ages 14%E2%80%93up. (Aug.)