Kissing the Rain
Chicken House-Scholastic, 2004, 320 pp, $16.99
The rain. That is what Michael "Moo" Nelson calls the constant stream of torment poured on him by classmates and teachers. The only place he finds peace is on the highway overpass watching the traffic stream past-until he witnesses a murder take place on the highway. Caught between a tough detective who pressures him to "lie" for the right reasons and a murderer who pushes him even harder to tell the "truth" for all the wrong ones, Moo learns there are worse things than the rain. Brooks tells the story in a staccato style that mirrors his protagonist's stumbling, battered life. His use of British slang is a bit daunting at first, but the power of Moo's voice propels the reader along to the violent conclusion. This a strong effort that will engage older adolescents and make them search for his other works. Good read.
Kennesaw State University; Kennesaw, GA
God Went to Beauty School
HarperTempest, 2003, 56, $14.99
Audience: Grades: 7 - 12
The afternoon I picked up Cynthia Rylant's book, God Went to Beauty School, I was on my way to the beauty salon. Knowing I'd have some time to read, I took it with me. When I sat in the chair, my beautician let out a gasp and grabbed the book, excited about the title. Before she began work on my hair, she read poems for all to hear. Soon, all work had stopped in the beauty parlor. Everyone, technicians and clients alike, were listening to the impromptu poetry reading spurred on by the engaging, honest poetry dedicated to humanizing while immortalizing God.
We all loved hearing that God went to beauty school but ended up spending his time working on nails because, "He'd always loved hands." We laughed at the image of God warming his feet next to a wandering dog he took home; we sympathized with God when he described sitting all day at a desk job; and we marveled at the ethos the poet created that made God seem a bit closer than before we read. I believe adolescents will love these poems, I know beauticians do.
Reviewed by Dr. Carol Harrell
Kennesaw State University
Laura Malone Elliott
HB: HarperCollins Publisher 2003
148 pp. $15.99
Historical-Cultural Fiction/ Southern
The summer of 1968 brings permanent changes to the life of 11-year old Alice, the first-person narrator of Flying South. With the delicateness of southern hospitality, the text introduces Alice's sheltered life in Charlottesville, Virginia with her widowed mother Grace, long-time Black family cook Edna, and elderly family gardener Doc. Two people intrude into this safe world: Alice and Bridget's friendship introduces not only tennis and a new friend, but also prejudice, selfishness and unfriendly competition; Grace and Bill's dating introduces discrimination, sexism and narrow-mindedness. Alice and Grace's comfortable "screen-door" lives are gently contrasted to the tumultuous events of America's 1960s - the deaths of Kennedy and King, civil rights riots, protest marches and anti-war rallies.
Alice and Doc's discussions about growing roses are analogies about living life. Along with a warning, ".life is going to test you," Doc forewarns Alice that things change and correct answers one day can be incorrect the next. Both Alice and Grace face tests. Alice realizes that life is more than the sheltered existence she has known and Grace realizes that she does not need a husband to survive. Universal questions and moral issues are sensitively examined through Alice's eyes. This text creates a rich image of America's 1960s, as if the reader was slowly sipping information through a straw from a tall, cool glass of iced tea, Southern style - sweet. For younger adolescents this text is a complete entity, worthy of discussion; for older adolescents it could also be the foundation for cross-curricular, in-depth studies of culture, social life, literature and politics. The text even provides a visual question to ponder: what is the connection between the bird on Flying South's book jacket and the bird on To Kill A Mockingbird's cover?
Reviewed by Judy Coane
Kell High School, Marietta, Georgia