Posted by: Lizzie Ross | March 22, 2010

High school angst, sort of

Criss Cross, Lynne Rae Perkins (2005), Greenwillow, 337 pp.

I’m not one of those people who look back fondly on high school days, so I’m always surprised that I can enjoy a book focused on teen angst and evolving relationships. But Lynne Rae Perkins’ Criss Cross gets at the fluctuating feelings and self-images of those challenging years, and the sheer arbitrariness of friendships and love affairs–with humor and sympathy for people living through their teens.

We get to follow several characters as they move in and out of each others’ lives for a few months, in a small town in what might be western Pennsylvania or eastern Ohio (there are references to mountains and factories spewing coal dust). The kids hang out at a Tastee-Freez, or in each other’s driveways. And, instead of telling this from only one character’s point of view, Perkins takes us into the minds of each of these teens–a football player who might or might not be turning into a donkey (metaphorically, of course), a gearhead whose interest in reading the encyclopedia led him to shop class rather than the science lab (it could have gone either way), a girl who learns to drive a stick shift in first and reverse only and to “pop the clutch” (and uses these skills to save someone’s life), a frizzy-headed misfit who takes guitar lessons as a means to impress girls and then winds up composing his own songs (complete with chord changes for the guitar).

Paths cross, and criss cross, and recross, like an elaborate dance across many dimensions, where people come close but rarely collide. Throughout it all, a lost necklace randomly passes from character to character, mirroring the random nature of meetings. Perkins’ black and white drawings, sometimes incorporating photographs, appear at important moments to illustrate events.

My favorite chapter: Debbie and Patty look at a yearbook and come up with haikus to replace the quotes the editors put next to each senior’s photo.

This is a book to read alone, on a beach or in front of a blazing fire, where the warmth burns a bit, like high school.

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