A Swift Pure Cry. By Siobhan Dowd. David Fickling Books. $16.99.
The Whole Sky Full of Stars. By René Saldaña, Jr. Wendy Lamb Books. $15.99.
The level of teenage angst is typical, but the settings are on the exotic side in these two books – which make good summer reading only if you find tears and worry cathartic. The death of a parent looms large in both novels – of a mother in A Swift Pure Cry, a father in The Whole Sky Full of Stars. But the books are really about teens’ attempts to make something of themselves and their lives after the losses occur.
A Swift Pure Cry is set in a small town in
The Whole Sky Full of Stars is gritty, too, but it speaks of a different time, different class issues and a different worldview. It starts with a fight – Barry punches his longtime best friend, Alby, after Alby makes a disrespectful comment about Barry’s mother – and fighting, especially its seamier side, is what the book is all about. Barry has the unpolished boxing skills of a natural fighter, and Alby, who has gambling debts and is in deep trouble with some minor-league thugs, sees Barry as a way out of his problems. Barry sees something in his fighting ability, too: he has been drifting since his father’s death, and he needs something on which to focus, and he wants to help both his mother and Alby – although he doesn’t approve of the trouble Alby has gotten himself into. René Saldaña, Jr.’s structure for the book is a little jarring, ratcheting back and forth between Barry and Alby as if their lives are a ping-pong match – until Barry starts fighting, when the focus is strongly on him and his opponents. Non-fans of boxing will not appreciate the realism of the fights, especially the final one of the series, in which Barry and his opponent maul each other. The end of the book returns to the issue of friendship – what it means, what can boost or damage it, and how important it is – and if the life lessons are scarcely new or uniquely presented, they are at least told with enough real-world connection to provide a satisfactory conclusion.