cover image Vandal


Michael Simmons, . . Roaring Brook/Porter, $16.95 (173pp) ISBN 978-1-59643-070-9

Nice 16-year-old Will, the likable narrator of Simmons's (Pool Boy ) novel, is the middle child in a well-off family living in the Chicago suburbs that really only has one problem: his 17-year-old brother, Jason, has always been a troublemaker, from bullying neighborhood kids to starting fires. The book opens when Jason has just returned from a summer at a juvenile detention center. Will is starting to carve out his own identity, playing lead guitar in a KISS tribute band (which he admits is "kind of a dopey gig"). But when he offers Jason a job as the band's roadie, Will unintentionally sets off a chain of events that will change the family forever. Will's authentic voice grounds the novel, and readers will get a strong sense of him, from awkward conversations with his crush to his complicated feelings for his brother ("There were a lot of things I resented about the guy. That's true. But there was a side of me that really wanted him to like me"). In contrast, their younger sister, Olivia, whom everyone likes and wants to protect, seems too scripted, existing only to set up the inevitable tragedy, but readers will still find themselves sympathizing with each family member at the novel's climax. Simmons offers no easy answers beyond Will's own growing understanding of love and family. This is a quick read, but it packs an emotional punch. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)