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.
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