July 12, 2007


Walking on Glass. By Alma Fullerton. HarperTempest. $15.99.

The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance. By Catherine Ryan Hyde. Knopf. $15.99.

      Be forewarned: these are not books for the faint of heart. With emotion cranked up to the maximum from start to finish, they appear to be intended for teenage readers who either have insufficient angst in their own lives, or who have so much trouble of their own that they desperately want to read stories of young people who have as much, or even more.

      The HarperTempest imprint seems ideally matched to Walking on Glass, which is tempestuous indeed. Told in free verse – a gentle form at odds with the highly upsetting story – Alma Fullerton’s novel is about life-or-death choices. The narrator’s mother chose death, but did not quite get there: after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, which her son interrupted, the mother is comatose and not expected ever to regain consciousness. The unnamed narrator and his unnamed father visit the hospital periodically, with the man expressing hope and the boy feeling none. What he does feel is a need to escape, even briefly, from the twilight world in which his mother is not quite gone – and there is someone with a name who helps him do that: Jack, his best friend, who “knows how to have a good time” but is far from a positive influence. Indeed, there is precious little positive in Walking on Glass, a depressing work from open to close. What uplift there is at the end comes only from final acceptance of death. And it takes much torment to get there – for most of the book, when the narrator sees his mother, “Wires force life into a body/ left hanging/ like a marionette/ with no one to pull/ the strings.” A few people besides Jack have names – Dr. Mac, who has urged the narrator to keep a journal (which is what Walking on Glass is), and Alissa, a girl who could perhaps help if only the narrator would allow her to (which he doesn’t). Downbeat from start to finish, Walking on Glass will be an exercise in self-torment for many readers; but some may, for reasons of their own, need a book like this.

      The reasons someone might need The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance are clearer. Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book is about alcoholism – alcoholic parents and alcoholic kids. Thirteen-year-old Cynthia, known as Cynnie, is the narrator, who has a mother who is drunk all the time. So Cynnie takes care of her little brother, Bill, whom she adores, while her mother goes through a series of failed relationships and a series of bottles. Cynnie doesn’t do so well with relationships herself – she obviously has no satisfactory adult role model. Then her grandparents come and take Bill to live with them, and Cynnie’s awful life goes from bad to worse, to the point that “it was like I didn’t have one single thing left.” Cynnie drives a boy’s car illegally, is caught, and is ordered by a judge to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Her “miraculous reappearance” begins when, after much soul-searching, she stands up at an AA meeting and announces, “My name is Cynthia. I’m an alcoholic.” The change from self-identification as Cynnie (sounds like “sin-ny”) to Cynthia is an overly obvious plot device, and the last part of the book, in which Cynthia discovers previously unrecognized depth in herself and does her best to make amends with her grandparents, is clich├ęd throughout. But the book certainly has power, especially for teens whose lives have been affected by alcohol abuse. They will welcome its ultimate uplifting message.

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