Like its cross-country-running heroine, Anderson's (Speak) latest novel starts off promisingly, then loses its pacing about midway through. The narrator, 18-year-old Kate Malone, has placed all of her eggs in one basket: she has applied only to her late mother's alma mater, MIT. Calculus is a cinch, chemistry is her favourite subject, even physics comes easily to her, but when her MIT rejection arrives, it acts as catalyst for the slow unravelling of her delicately balanced life. A preacher's daughter, she struggles between "Good Kate" and "Bad Kate" as she singlehandedly keeps the household running (her mother died nine years ago). Anderson excels in conveying Kate's anxieties and her concomitant insomnia, and frequently intersperses evidence of Kate's sharp humour (she calls Mitchell A. Pangborn III "my friend, my enemy, my lust"). But Kate's relationships with others remain hazy. While this seems to reflect Kate's state of mind, since she slowly shuts everyone out as her MIT-less fate becomes clear, her detachment may create a similar effect for readers. This aloofness becomes most problematic in the dynamics of her relationship with Teri Litch, who once beat her up habitually. After Teri's house burns down, she and toddler Mikey Litch come to live with the Malones, and the action escalates to the point of melodrama. Yet another tragic event spurs a reconciliation between Kate and Teri, but the underlying changes in the individuals that lead up to this event remain unclear. Teens will take to Kate instantly, but as the novel continues, they may be confused about what makes her tick. Still, the universal obstacles she faces and the realistic outcome will likely hold readers' attention. Ages 12-up.
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Laurie Halse Anderson has received both the Margaret Edwards Award and the ALAN Award for her contributions to young adult literature. She has also been honored by the National Coalition Against Censorship in recognition of her fight to combat the censoring of literature. She is the author of the groundbreaking National Book Award finalist and Printz Honor Book Speak. She is also author of the critically acclaimed YA books Prom, Twitsted, Catalyst, Wintergirls, and The Impossible Knife of Memory. She has also authored a number of middle grade titles including The Vet Volunteers series, and the historical fiction Seeds of America Trilogy, which includes Forge, ALA Best Book for Young Adults Fever 1793, and the National Book Award finalist and Scott O'Dell Award-winner Chains. She and her husband live in northern New York State. Follow Laurie on Twitter @halseanderson and visit her at madwomanintheforest.com.
"Intelligently written with multi-dimensional characters that replay in one's mind, this complex, contemporary story carries much of the intensity and harshness of Speak. It confronts moral issues, religious conundrums, and the dynamics of emotions in young adult lives as two girls driven by the past and present realize their impact on the future." "Anderson is a gifted writer who makes the complex worlds of teenage girls real to the reader, from the competitiveness and casual cruelty of high school to the wisecracks between friends to the families struggling to connect. Anything by this author is well worth reading." "A compelling treatment of that eternal question: What do you do when life hands you something you can't bear?" "Anderson returns here to the same high school setting of Speak (now-verbal Melinda makes a cameo appearance); readers will return for Anderson's keen understanding and eminently readable style."