Friday, October 22, 2010

Children's Book Review: Criss Cross

Set in the 1960s, Criss Cross often mentions "transcendental" type moments of revelation. One of these was in the second chapter, and it made me skeptical that the book would provide any real insight into young minds. Boy was I wrong.

Lynn Rae Perkins is a mastermind at expressing the thoughts--random or organized, specific or theoretical--of young teenagers that are discovering their own personality and friends. Using a variety of forms from prose to haiku, to song lyrics and split screen writing, Perkins' use of words is an illustration itself to the complexity of young minds seeking to find their way through life. Thinking back to my own early teen years (which weren't so long ago) I recognize myself and my own thoughts in this book...not just in one character, but in all of them!

Perkins introduces a fun cast of ordinary teens and follows them through a series of developing events. So flawlessly does she track the mental gyrations of her characters, the reader moves with them through the story, feeling the subtle changes of growing personality, but not realizing it until the characters themselves make the discovery.

There are great themes of friendship, humility, and compassion through it all, along with a classic series of awkward teenage moments and everyday vignettes, humorous because of their accurate detail. Altogether, it makes for an upbeat book, charming in its realism and normalcy. (Why is realism so often not charming?) It reminds us of what we should already know: *most* teens in their coming of age years are (we all hope) in the process of becoming good adults, who enjoy life and take interest in and care for those around them. Though the subject matter is taken on by thousands of authors every year, Perkins approaches her story with a unique style and insight. If you're looking for a quiet, humorous adventure through the minds of several growing teenage friends, have this one close at hand!

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