cover image THE CHEAT


Amy Goldman Koss, . . Dial, $16.99 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2794-6

Although written in the same multinarrator format Koss used so powerfully in The Girls, this middle-school problem novel, unfortunately, doesn't make the grade. Hoping to impress pretty, popular Sarah, unpopular Jake gives her a copy of last year's multiple-choice geography midterm (from his older sister's files). Sarah shares the goods with her best friend, Katie, and impulsively, with Danny and Rob. At zero hour, Katie's conscience kicks in and she answers the questions out of sequence, so that she can't benefit from the mnemonic device she and Sarah invented to remember the answers. The other three, however, use the purloined answers; Rob realizes, too late, that the test has changed. Within a few hours, their teacher has somehow figured out that the students must have seen a previous exam, and Sarah, Danny and Rob are in trouble. This improbable setup occasions souped-up consequences, including (but not limited to) Rob's running away from home, Danny's girlfriend breaking up with him ("Who can trust a guy like that?... You can never know what else he'll, like, feel comfy lying about") and a crisis in Katie and Sarah's friendship. An artificiality permeates the characters' voices as well. Sarah is prone to cute versifying ("Whatever debatie/ No matter how weighty/ Or how irritatey/ I never could hatie/ My bestest friend Katie"); Rob speaks mainly in fragments. Koss's fans are likely to be disappointed. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)