cover image Playing Solitaire

Playing Solitaire

Nancy Antle. Dial Books, $16.99 (112pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2406-8

With the tension and pacing of a thriller, Antle's (Lost in the War) novel tackles difficult issues including alcoholism, grief and emotional abuse honestly and with a delicate touch. The author plants clues as to why 13-year-old Ellie has recently moved to Drasco, Okla., to live with her grandpa from the outset: ""Nobody'll be feeling sorry for me 'cause my daddy was a mean drunk or 'cause Mama died of brain cancer."" The protagonist finds comfort in the ""neat little rows"" of cards in her favorite game, solitaire, the loving bickering of Grandpa and his outspoken neighbor, her adopted dog and a new friend, but the impending possibility of her alcoholic father's reappearance threatens Ellie's sanctuary. The theme of solitaire works on several levels, as Ellie tries to go it alone, secretly plotting to kill her father when he arrives, and struggles to trust family, friends and her newfound feeling of belonging. Antle handles Ellie's longing for revenge responsibly and believably, gradually upping the emotional ante for readers until, in the penultimate scene, she reveals the past episode that triggers Ellie's all-consuming anger. In a subtle, spare style and with fully delineated characters, the author skillfully creates the community of this eccentric small town and portrays the ways loved ones both tiptoe around and champion those they care about in times of crisis and pain. Readers will be heartened by the hope and redemption dealt in the final hand of this complex psychological novel. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)