Friday, July 15, 2011

Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins [2006]

My Rating: 5/10

Quick Summary: A series of intersecting vignettes about a group of teenagers in a small town in the 70s. 

When I first started blogging as a teenager, I wasn't quite sure how to present myself online, and so I played around with several experimental and/or "edgy" possible styles and entries.  Generally, this meant a lot of silly, self-conscious ridiculousness.

This book reads a lot like that.  The author seems to have been experimenting with all sorts of "different" styles she could use, such as the chapter that has simultaneous narratives about two different characters, or the chapter written in haiku, or the one that is set up as a dialogue only to slowly become blurred as to who is speaking which part.  

I found this both fatuous and distracting.  It was almost impossible for me to connect with the characters and the story, because I was constantly being taken out of it by the "look at me!  look at how edgy and cool I am!" feeling of it all.  The author never took the time to establish the who/what/where/when/why of it all, and so I never really got sucked in.  

The lack of a true feeling of place and time was problematic, because the book is set in the 70s, but since it isn't well-established, the discussion about proper length to wear one's bellbottoms seemed to come out of nowhere, and was really jarring.  It almost would have been better to avoid those few mentions of the time period, because I think the book would have proven a little more universal without them, especially as she didn't do a good job of establishing setting.

I spent a lot of the first half of the book flipping around, because I'd have to remind myself who each character was, as she jumped between so many without really letting us get to know any of them properly.  The second half read a little bit more easily, as I no longer had to do that, and there were even a couple of scenes I started getting interested in.  The chapter in which two of the characters work together to save an elderly lady was actually quite good.  Which made it all the more disappointing when the book went back to being scattered and out of touch.  

I saw someone on Goodreads mention that this book might have made a decent Wes Anderson movie... but the techniques and styles that make a fun and quirky film do not necessarily translate to making a good book.  Again, I have to question why on earth this was chosen as a Newbery Medal book.

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