Review of “Crooked” by Laura and Tom McNeal

It continues to amaze me that books by these incredibly talented authors are so hard to find in bookstores and libraries. Crooked, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults, captures with startling verisimilitude the voices of the young people who populate this story set in a small town in upstate New York.

Clara and Amos, the fourteen-year-old protagonists, are sweet and shy, full of hormones and angst, and achingly believable. Similarly, the cruel girls in their class are as convincingly frightening and dangerous with their verbal and psychological abuse as are the malicious town misfits, Charles and Eddie Tripp, with their physical abuse.

This story of two nice kids who are targeted basically for being two nice kids is told so well you can actually feel the fear and bewilderment of Clara and Amos, and you can’t help but hurt for them as school becomes a place to dread, rather than a place to learn. And as if this weren’t enough, both Clara and Amos suffer significant upheavals in their family lives. Apprehension over what will happen to them and how they will cope with it increases as the story progresses.

Discussion: Clara and Amos are confused; they’re not always “cool”; and they don’t always do the right thing. But they are both decent and good-hearted kids, and manage to make the best out of some pretty badly drawn cards. In different ways, they slowly transcend the hurts, and ascend the awkward coming-of-age ladder. By virtue of their grace and goodness, they discover inner strength, courage, the ability to forgive others and themselves, and a recognition that value is sometimes lying just beneath the surface.

Evaluation: Crooked brought me back to the awful cruelty of junior high with flashback-like realism. There are some very tense moments in the book, but there is also a pervasive sweetness, which thankfully remains the dominant emotional strain of this close-up look at life in a small-town junior high. Parents will find this book provides an excellent opportunity to discuss a variety of issues that unfortunately come into play at the junior high stage.

Rating: 3.5/5

Spoilery Note (for Parents): There is a scene of almost-sexual-abuse, and while the fact that it didn’t get carried out was probably the least realistic part of the story, I was very happy and relieved nevertheless!

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 1999

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12 Responses to Review of “Crooked” by Laura and Tom McNeal

  1. Beth F says:

    This sounds like it rises above the usual bully-themed YA book. Junior high was probably horrible for everyone–cool or nerdy.

  2. Jenny says:

    I know everyone will hate me for saying this, but junior high was really good for me. I started taking Latin and all my teachers liked me (except my geometry teacher, who I was very frightened of), and I got to volunteer in the library instead of going to my PE classes. Ah, those were simpler times. I wish everyone could have had such a good sixth through eighth grades.

  3. BermudaOnion says:

    Too many kids have lives like Clara and Amos. This book sounds heartbreaking.

  4. Sandy says:

    Hey I’m right there living middle school through my son. Kids can’t be horrible creatures at this age, both to their parents and each other. Although I appreciate the talking points that it addresses, I’m not completely sure if I have the stomach for it since I’m pretty much OVER this stuff.

  5. Hm, I don’t know if I have the stomach to relive middle school either! 🙂

  6. zibilee says:

    Middle School was worse than high-school for me, so I think I could probably relate to this book. You make it sound so irresistible and yet scary at the same time. Very nice review today.

  7. I wonder why you have such a hard time finding some of these titles?? Makes me wonder. This one sounds good!

  8. I like your review of this book, although I don’t know if I’d read it. I have to be in the right mood for it because I have a hard time with books about kids being bullied.

  9. Jenners says:

    I’m terrified for my son to move out of elementary school!

  10. Athira says:

    Boy, this one does sound like a great book. I haven’t seen this one anywhere, so I’m glad for your review.

  11. stacybuckeye says:

    The story sounds worthwhile but I really hate that cover!

  12. bookingmama says:

    It’s probably better that the scene didn’t take place given the intended audience. My daughter would have freaked out! I like that it kind of “goes there” though because it opens up the possibility of discussion.

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