cover image WHO IS JESSE FLOOD?


Malachy Doyle, . . Bloomsbury, $14.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-776-9

Although the titular question may imply a degree of mystery, Doyle's (Georgie) low-energy novel offers neither puzzles nor suspense. Jesse Flood, the 14-year-old narrator, grows up in aptly named Greywater, a small drab town in Northern Ireland, where he feels lonely and alienated ("You pass Miss boring Green and Mrs even more boring Fleming, boring the socks off each other on the corner, rabbiting on about last night's blockbuster episode of EastEnders or whinging on about all their little aches and pains"). Unfortunately, the author's attempts to set a distinctive or personal mark on this familiar terrain fall short. Jesse tells himself (and readers) stories cobbled together from Irish folktales, mulls over his parents' troubled marriage (his mother leaves midway through the novel), recalls embarrassing moments from childhood, and even faces peril in a sudden blizzard. An older friend turns out to be dealing drugs, and an ex-friend uses drugs and winds up dead. Even with so many plot elements, the stakes remain low. Lackluster pacing and broad-brush storytelling create a numbing distance, and Jesse's boredom with Greywater may well be passed along to readers. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)