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Letters from the Inside (pb)
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Gr 8 Up-A powerful book, set in Australia. Mandy answers Tracey's ad in a magazine and the girls, both going on 16, become pen pals. The fluff of their early letters depicts two teens who are almost indistinguishable from one another. Soon, before these lively yet innocuous exchanges become tedious, there are hints that Tracey is hiding something. She reveals that in truth, she is in a maximum security unit of a correctional institution for an unspeakable, unnamed crime. She is big, she is tough, and she is scared. The universal, brutal truths of young women living together behind bars is made perfectly clear by her blunt descriptions. Mandy's life, compared to her friend's, is almost idyllic. Her timid complaints about her brother's violent outbursts are easy to ignore. His poor academics, hot temper, and collections of weapons and Rambo posters are rationalized away by Mandy's loving but overworked parents, as are her fears of being in the house alone with him. Then, mysteriously, Mandy's letters stop. The story is over. The tragedy of this novel is that these bright young people are not hopeless. Their lives are salvageable, if only someone with the power to help would listen. Perhaps Marsden intends, through shock, to sensitize his readers to the real-life tragedies hidden behind white-picket fences and masks of toughness; perhaps therein lies the hope. Consisting entirely of the correspondence of the two girls for exactly one year, this book is also an anatomy of a friendship. It will draw its readers in completely and cut them off with a jolt. Purchase it, read it, recommend it to mature teens and to adults.-Margaret Cole, Oceanside Library, NY

A chilling psychological drama plays out in the correspondence between two teenage girls. "The heart-wrenching conclusion will exert its power long after this book is read," said PW in a starred review. Ages 12-up. (May)

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