cover image Crunch Time

Crunch Time

Mariah Fredericks, . . Atheneum/Jackson, $15.95 (317pp) ISBN 978-0-689-86938-9

Fredericks (The True Meaning of Cleavage ) weaves together the experiences of four juniors who are in the throes of preparing for the SATs: Max, an intelligent test-taker and gifted writer with his sights set on Columbia; Daisy, his best friend, a popular basketball star who freezes up at test time; Leo, a hottie and a skilled tester but with no extracurriculars to his credit (thus he yearns for "the perfect score" to ensure entry to Yale); and Jane, daughter of a movie star with average scores and little idea of what she wants to do. The quartet comes together in an SAT prep course, when the teacher can't find the test booklets, and Daisy suggests they walk out. Through a first-person narrative that shifts among the four, the author convincingly portrays each character's motive for leaving the class, and for accepting Jane's invitation to study at her house. They gradually improve their scores over the course of their weekly meetings. Meanwhile, Max finally summons the courage to tell Daisy that he feels more than friendship for her, just as Leo begins calling Daisy at home. And when a brilliant senior admits that she was paid to take the SATs for someone in their class, suspicion causes the narrators to turn on one another. Even more than the mystery, teens will be intrigued by the philosophical discussion these four characters bring to light regarding what it means to be judged by standardized test scores. Ages 12-up. (Jan.)