Reviews provided by Syndetics
Publishers Weekly Review
Eleven kids with distinct voices and individual struggles narrate Frank's impressive debut novel, yet each of the interlocking stories springs to life with tender details. The book follows a loosely connected group of Brooklyn students over a seven-year period. The author initially introduces a few characters in a kind of pastiche, then renders them in fuller portraits, such as Keisha, who reveals that her brother is "touching me on my privacy every night" and, in a chapter four years later, experiences a healthy relationship with a peer. Other characters deal with physically abusive or absent parents, an unwanted pregnancy or a friend's suicide, but as the title indicates, each tale is tempered by humor. Readers will empathize with their struggles, but more than that, they will be inspired by the strength of their spirits and their willingness to love. Eric, another character introduced in a kind of broad brushstroke at the beginning, metamorphoses in one of the novel's most memorable stories. His mother is a drug addict, and he becomes the caretaker for his little brother, Mickey ("He tell all the little bugs he see at school he don't need no daddy 'cause he gots me," says Eric). The brothers reappear in the last chapter, narrated by their new foster-sister, Linnette, who calls Eric a "hatchet murder face," intimidated by his bottled-up anger. When he literally reaches out to her at the end, she delicately describes her reaction as "my voice high and melting, my insides all unfrozen." The language is gritty, and some of the story lines will be intense for young readers, but this is ultimately an uplifting book about resilience, loyalty and courage. Ages 12-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
Gr 12 Up-Life is hard, perplexing, and sometimes funny for a diverse group of Brooklyn teenagers in E. R. Frank's novel (DK Children, 2000). Gingerbread was a crack baby and must take Ritalin to control his racing brain, but he has an adopted family that adores him and his life is sunny. Grace struggles with an angry, abusive mother who is jealous of her daughter's beauty and opportunities. Eric's sole desire is to protect his brother, Mickey, from their crackhead mother, and he will steal, cheat, and lie to ensure their survival together. As the years pass, friendships are formed and break apart and a dozen characters' story lines dovetail into each other. Narrator Quincy Tyler Bernstine is especially strong when the story becomes poetic, and her sing-song narration is gentle, soothing, and smooth. Her weakness is not differentiating the dozen points of view by voice. Listeners will struggle to place each character and their story in memory. Some characters come back strong, others slip away and we never hear of them again. Frank's prose is beautifully styled, and her characters are fully formed and interesting. Pervasive street language and graphic sexual situations bump the story up to the most mature teen listeners.-Tricia Melgaard, formerly Broken Arrow Public Schools, Tulsa, OK (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Gr. 7^-12. First novelist Frank breaks new ground with a realistic, lyrical novel about 11 teens in Brooklyn now. Without drowning in particulars that will date overnight, their contemporary voices ring true. Their talk is painful, rough, sexy, funny, fearful, furious, gentle. Each chapter, each vignette within a chapter, builds to its own climax, and the stories weave together to surprise you. The first time Eric appears, he is seen through the eyes of Ebony and her friends: he's the glaring special ed. kid with a "hatchet murder face," every sentence a curse. Later he speaks in his own voice, and he's a tender, fiercely protective "father" to his little brother, Mickey, who asks, "Why Mama putting a needle in her?" There's Grace, a beautiful white girl, who defies her racist mother and leans on Ebony and her friends. And there's hyperactive Gingerbread, on "riddle-in," born to a crack addict, adopted as a baby by a caring, middle-class interracial couple. He's smart and strong and lucky, and he tells you so in a galloping, rhythmic narrative. He loves Keisha, who loves him. It's sometimes hard to keep track of the huge cast, but the voices are distinct, heartfelt. This would be a great book for readers' theater and for group discussion. Teens will open up to the yearning and the poetry in their own daily lives. --Hazel Rochman
Horn Book Review
(Young Adult) Keeping track of eleven narrators over a seven-year stretch of time is a lot to ask of readers, but this first novel is easier to follow than one might expect. The book is realistic in that the characters, most of whom attend a six-year high school in Brooklyn, are from various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds; their experiences include sex, drugs, violence, and family problems; and their language and dialogue sound true to life. Unrealistically, their experiences run the gamut of problem-novel topics. There are drug-addicted parents, a suicide, an illness-related death, a teen pregnancy (and miscarriage), a wife batterer, a hyperactive kid, masturbation, incest, cutting, virginity lost, foster kids, an interracial marriage, mental illness-and, to top it all off, not one but two teen models. Readers are likely to find the plethora of issues excessive, even ridiculous at times. That said, the novel is still compelling, with characters readers won't mind following over the years. More believable, and memorable, than the book's numerous issues is its depiction of how having someone who cares about you can be your saving grace-much of the time, though not always. The author, a social worker writing under a pseudonym, succeeds most of all in showing how lives are shaped over years, for better or worse, by the people kids run into, away from, and with. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Book Review
This raw portrayal of 11 New York City high school students of various ages and races quickly belies its ironic title. Frank's first novel convincingly portrays seven years in the lives of these kids as they fight, mature, and cope with alcoholic, abusive, even insane parents. Each character's story eventually intertwines with those of other characters as they all escape their emotional prisons. Eric, a hostile special ed. student whose mother is a hopeless drug addict, frames the narrative. He finds salvation in his love for his little brother Mickey and in a teacher who helps reunite the two into a caring foster home after child-protection authorities separate them. Then there's Drew, who seems to have everything, but whose wealthy father beats his wife. Or Monique, whose life turns around when Hector comes into it. Divided into years, seven in all, each section is then divided again into narratives by two of the protagonists. Each voice is distinct, but the underlying message is one and the same: underneath the street smarts and the rough talk are real kids, with much more to them than can be seen on the surface. Realistic language, rough and profane, fierce situations that are nearly too much to bear, and a savagely honest portrayal of the nature of the interconnectedness of life make this not a novel for the faint of heart or timid reader. But those who embark upon this intriguing mosaic will come away rewarded and inspired by the strength and fortitude of its characters. An astounding first effort. (Fiction. YA) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.