Monday, September 14, 2009

The Bad Tween

“Running the Risk”
By Lesley Choyce
ISBN No. 978-1-55469-025-1
By James C. Dekker
ISBN No. 978-1-55143-995-2
By Norah McClintock
ISBN No. 978-1-55143-989-1

All available at

Pity the kids. When you’re a child you get to read fairy tales, a bit older and you’re into Archie comics, but when you turn tween every book becomes a how-not-to. Such are the perils of being society’s most treasured resource.
“Running the Risk” is all about how not to get yourself killed by doing something stupid. Chasing that risk is all Sean wants to do after he survives an armed robbery at his workplace, Burger Heaven. Addicted to the adrenaline rush he starts to seek out increasingly dangerous situations and people to test his invincibility until he gets into some real trouble. The great thing about RTR is how acutely the book captures the appeal of victimhood (Sean is suddenly a celebrity at school) and why kids think they’ll live forever. Even better, adult fiction usually takes up twice as many pages to explain the risk-taking mentality and often comes up short.
The emotional wallop in “Impact” comes from a place we don’t read often enough about in youth fiction: impact statements. The book has a moral to teach (the consequences of violence) but it smartly looks at it in the rear view mirror instead of as a preventive measure (pretty daring when you’re writing for kids). There’s a mystery here to keep the young ones reading, of course (did Jordan know more about his brother’s death than he’s saying?) but the real appeal is how the author shows what a child’s death does to the remaining family members and how slowly he rolls out the big reveal.
“Back” is all about what happens after the violent act, the impact statements and the jail time. Here, a bad seed gets released from prison. Is he reformed? Has prison made him even worse? Is he targeted for revenge? The book hits all the obligatory notes about how the sentence never fits the crime, how society is responsible for making these monsters, and the frustration felt by the law-abiding populace. But it also has a genuinely surprising ending that makes everything that went before it make perfect sense. There’s a scene in here with a child and a rock that rivals anything in Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”