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Checkers
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Gr 6-10-In this Australian import, a teen ponders the events that led to her current stay in a mental hospital. Laid out like long journal entries, the narrative shifts between descriptions of the slow-paced routine and assorted fellow patients in the psychiatric facility and the snowballing story of her father's involvement in a national scandal. The Warners, while well off, were never a happy family. The first real joy of the narrator's life came in the form of Checkers, a boisterous puppy that the girl's father brought home on the day he announced he had gotten a major casino contract. The contract was illegally obtained through some convoluted dealings with the Premier who publicly denied ever having met the business executive. After months of investigation, a reporter discovered, through information the narrator unwittingly supplied, that Checkers was actually a gift from the Premier. The father's guilt was confirmed, and he murdered the dog in a vengeful rage. The narrator holds herself personally responsible for the death of her pet, and apparently has had a breakdown. This book has several problems. The descriptions of the overall crisis, the father's business, and the government scandal are abstruse and often boring. The main character is not especially likable or well developed. How she actually ended up in the mental hospital is not fully explained, and why she has taken responsibility for Checkers's death is unclear. Also, the glossary of Australian terms is insufficient, rendering the book confusing for those who aren't familiar with the dialect.-July Siebecker, Hubbard Memorial Library, MA

This determinedly grim novel is less compelling than most of the Australian writer's previous books (Letters from the Inside), even though it shares their angry energy and capacity to shock. The focus splits between teenage patients in a psychiatric ward and the family crisis that brought the unnamed female narrator there. It is an uneasy split, despite the energetic prose of the girl's diary entries: "Life seems so fragile. You walk down the centre of the highway, with the big trucks rushing past. They make the air shake. They blow you off your line." Her fellow participants in group therapy include an obsessive-compulsive, a male anorexic and a girl who thinks she has an animal living in her head. However, the narrator describes their activities rather than interacts with them, so they don't seem fully realized. She claims a deep friendship with the anorexic boy, for example, but he figures only slightly in the stories she tells. And although the narrator eventually works up the courage to break her long silence in group, readers never learn what her diagnosis is‘only what happened to her. A heavy dose of Australian politics and corporate-speak in connection with the subplot about the girl's father weigh down the story line, but the pervasive sadness of the narration will make this worthwhile for teenagers who find solace in reading about hard times. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)

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