cover image TARGET


Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson, . . Roaring Brook/Brodie, $15.95 (175pp) ISBN 978-0-7613-1932-0

This painful, explicit tale is as difficult to read as it is worthwhile. Sixteen-year-old Grady West is recovering, albeit slowly, from a vicious attack in which two men pulled him into a van, then beat and raped him. Despite his best efforts to become a loner and retreat into his thoughts at his new high school, a small group of friends assemble around him—the boisterous young African-American poet, Jess, and Pearl, a heavyset and tender-hearted girl. The story moves at a glacier's pace, but necessarily so: for Grady, every movement, every word is excruciating, each minute of the day a challenge. He cannot keep food down; he can barely speak; everywhere he looks he sees only reminders of the "Night Of," and he divides his life into "Before" and "After." Unlike her debut, The Parallel Universe of Liars , Johnson's portrayal of his grief is achingly credible yet relentless, with little humor to introduce levity. She gradually and realistically reintroduces hope into Grady's life, and the conclusion is bittersweet and guardedly optimistic. Grady learns the importance of finding a few people to trust, and of allowing them to help. Johnson pulls no punches with the unsettling flashbacks to the rape scene, as graphic as any adult novel. Best suited to mature teens, the novel will almost certainly generate controversy. But for readers old enough to understand the gravity of rape and its repercussions, it is a thought-provoking and well-crafted book. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)