Children & YA

by Josh Berk
Knopf, March 2012, $16.95

“It’s no coincidence that I got interested in forensics right around the time they put my dad in the ground,” is the surprisingly suck-free opening of this superior YA novel that plays out like a surprisingly suck-free collision between Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and TV’s CSI. Unlike many YA books, which seem to have been written with one wary eye on parental approval, or surreal fantasies, which aim for the lowest common denominator of teenhood (Sex! Rebellion! Angst! Cool clothes!) with the pinpoint accuracy of a depth-seeking missile, this one panders to neither the powers on high or the lowest of the low. Instead, it targets—get this—normal, everyday teenagers.

Guy, a hapless, almost-17 slacker, isn’t some cooler-than-cool high school demigod, or some there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-goes-you loser, but an honest-to-goodness real kid: he’s just a horny, confused, flawed but essentially decent galoot, trying to make sense of his own life in the wake of his beloved father’s unexpected death. Dragged into the after-school forensics club by well-meaning best friend Anoop (a geeky A-student overachiever), Guy discovers his carefully honed shell of emotional detachment and dutifully maintained cynicism comes in handy when it comes to crime scene investigation—and he does seem to have a knack for the work. Unfortunately, his new skills soon lead him into unwanted discoveries about his father’s life. And when he and his friends (including Maureen, a would-be goth who seems put on earth to bust Guy’s balls) decide to investigate further, things turn nasty.

With a no-bull, matter-of-fact earthiness (complete with a genial political incor- rectness that eventually gets its comeuppance), Guy is an engaging narrator and would-be detective, a wiseass philosopher with a hardboiled worldview (despite a secret passion for bubble baths) and his heart firmly on his sleeve, simply out to do the right thing—as soon as he figures out what that is. The conclusion is kind of happy, sad and wonderful...sort of like life itself. Recommended.

Kevin Burton Smith

“It’s no coincidence that I got interested in forensics right around the time they put my dad in the ground,” is the surprisingly suck-free opening of this superior YA novel that plays out like a surprisingly suck-free collision between Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and TV’s CSI. Unlike many YA books, which seem to have been written with one wary eye on parental approval, or surreal fantasies, which aim for the lowest common denominator of teenhood (Sex! Rebellion! Angst! Cool clothes!) with the pinpoint accuracy of a depth-seeking missile, this one panders to neither the powers on high or the lowest of the low. Instead, it targets—get this—normal, everyday teenagers.

Guy, a hapless, almost-17 slacker, isn’t some cooler-than-cool high school demigod, or some there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-goes-you loser, but an honest-to-goodness real kid: he’s just a horny, confused, flawed but essentially decent galoot, trying to make sense of his own life in the wake of his beloved father’s unexpected death. Dragged into the after-school forensics club by well-meaning best friend Anoop (a geeky A-student overachiever), Guy discovers his carefully honed shell of emotional detachment and dutifully maintained cynicism comes in handy when it comes to crime scene investigation—and he does seem to have a knack for the work. Unfortunately, his new skills soon lead him into unwanted discoveries about his father’s life. And when he and his friends (including Maureen, a would-be goth who seems put on earth to bust Guy’s balls) decide to investigate further, things turn nasty.

With a no-bull, matter-of-fact earthiness (complete with a genial political incor- rectness that eventually gets its comeuppance), Guy is an engaging narrator and would-be detective, a wiseass philosopher with a hardboiled worldview (despite a secret passion for bubble baths) and his heart firmly on his sleeve, simply out to do the right thing—as soon as he figures out what that is. The conclusion is kind of happy, sad and wonderful...sort of like life itself. Recommended.

Teri Duerr
2683

by Josh Berk
Knopf, March 2012, $16.95

Berk
March 2012
guy-langman-crime-scene-procrastinator
16.95
Knopf