cover image Life Riddles

Life Riddles

Melrose Cooper. Henry Holt & Company, $14.95 (90pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-2613-9

As an aspiring author, seventh grader Janelle pays close attention to her librarian aunt's advice to ``write it down.'' Taking refuge in the stories she is constantly inventing, Janelle, the narrator, tries to block out the pain of her parents' separation and the financial worries that plague her hard-working mother. When her father eventually returns, the girl discovers some of the truth behind her aunt's ``life riddles,'' observations that Janelle ``never understood . . . till something happened to point things out.'' Believable as the oldest child who, unlike her siblings, understands the seriousness of her family's situation, the narrator also addresses a rarely discussed situation: being the ``Hershey bar''-colored daughter of parents with skin ``the color of coffee with double cream.'' Although Cooper (author of the picture book I Got a Family ) relies a bit heavily on the life-riddle motif, she offers readers grounds for optimism as she charts one family's survival through a sadly familiar terrain of ``lean times.'' Ages 9-12. (Jan.)