March 02, 2006


Crushed. By Laura & Tom McNeal. Knopf. $15.95.

Not Like I’m Jealous or Anything: The Jealousy Book. Edited by Marissa Walsh. Delacorte Press. $9.95.

     Preteens and young teenagers will recognize themselves, like it or not, in both these books. Whether they will enjoy reading about themselves and their environment may depend on whether they are gluttons for punishment: the authors portray many typical scenes so accurately that readers may feel they are living through them again in fiction after initially suffering through them in the real world.

     Certainly Laura and Tom McNeal, husband-and-wife authors of Crooked and Zipped, portray the backbiting and backstabbing of high school accurately. The title Crushed refers both to having a crush on someone and to feeling crushed if things don’t work out. Crushed is the authors’ third foray into fictional but real-seeming Jemison High, to which Audrey Reed comes with two friends after all three have gone through secondary-school education at a small, private, arts-focused school. What will happen to Audrey is entirely predictable – the book sticks closely to the nice-new-girl-with-troubles formula – but Audrey herself is likable enough so that readers will care about her attempts to navigate the treacherous high-school waters. Among the problems she faces are the school bully, Theo Diggs; a cute guy, Clyde Mumsford, who may be boyfriend material but may just be weird; and a new boy, Wickham Hill, who comes on strong and whom Audrey soon starts to date – but who, she finds out, may not be what he seems to be. There are the usual uncertainties, heartaches and revelations here, none of them particularly surprising, but the style is more interesting and involving than in many novels of similar type: “The streets were white with salt, the snow was black with dirt, and the sky was an impenetrable yellow.”

     Speaking of things impenetrable: jealousy, in all its forms and with all its implications, certainly qualifies. Not Like I’m Jealous or Anything is an anthology of 13 (appropriate number!) takes on the subject, ranging from a one-page free-verse poem to a 25-page short story. As usual in anthologies, and perhaps more than usual in ones aimed at preteens and young teenagers, the quality here is highly variable. A highlight is the much-footnoted, cleverly written Bake Sale, by E. Lockhart, author of an equally clever novel, The Boyfriend List. Another is Marty Beckerman’s rant, Why I’m Jealous of Ned Vizzini, a compressed and to-the-point explanation of “-----“ envy. Test Your Jealousy Quotient by Reed Tucker is an amusing set of eight questions designed to determine just how green you tend to turn. The styles here are so varied that most readers will likely find something, or a few things, to enjoy. But it is unlikely that the entire book, with its multitude of voices, angles and forms of expression, will have wide appeal. Still, reading about jealousy is a lot better for your mental health than experiencing it.

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