April 03, 2008


Wish You Were Here. By Catherine Clark. HarperTeen. $16.99.

Hurricane. By Terry Trueman. HarperCollins. $15.99.

      Readers ages 12 and up who opt for a Catherine Clark novel always have a pretty good idea of what to expect: mild but not insuperable family issues, mild flirtations, mild problems to be solved with mild good humor, and – all in all – a mildly enjoyable “beach read” sort of book that can be fun at any time of the year. Clark holds true to her successful formula in Wish You Were Here, the story of Ariel Flack, who gets stuck taking a “geriatric bus tour” road trip, to be followed by two weeks with her grandparents, just when she wants to stay home and spend time with her longtime crush, Dylan, whom she is finally dating…sort of. Ariel is just about as empty-headed as most Clark protagonists, but she is also, of course, basically a good girl – with enough of a mischievous streak to allow readers to get a vicarious thrill or two by identifying with her and her adventures. Ariel’s family is an integral part of who she is and what she does, for better (sometimes) or worse (other times). Her grandparents are actually kind of cute – they’re certainly lively enough – but her sister is (of course) annoying, her mom is (of course) crazy (her parents have split up – haven’t everyone’s?), and her uncle is simply an embarrassment. Now, there wouldn’t be a novel here unless something happened to throw Ariel’s worldview out of kilter, and that something turns out to be a fellow trapped traveler named Andre, whose mom insists on bringing along a little dog named Cuddles because, Andre explains, “she’ll go insane if she has to leave the dog somewhere, and then we’ll have an insane woman on the bus.” Well, all the insanity in Wish You Were Here is of the mild sort, and the predictable complications are pretty much of the mild sort as well. But the story is entertainingly told – one of Clark’s trademarks is her ability to keep things moving – and the inclusion of postcards as part of the narrative is a cute touch. The whole book is as frothy as the whipped cream atop a midsummer milkshake, but then there’s nothing wrong with milkshakes – in moderation.

      Terry Trueman’s work is reliable on levels that are different from those of Clark’s books. Hurricane is aimed at younger readers – ages 10 and up – but is altogether more serious in tone and intent than Clark’s novel. It is not about a hurricane with which most North American readers will be familiar, such as Katrina, but about Hurricane Mitch, which devastated parts of Honduras in 1998. Actually, it is not so much about the hurricane itself as about its aftermath in one hard-hit town, the book’s focus being on how the storm forces a young boy to grow up much faster than he would have in less turbulent times. Thirteen-year-old José Cruz finds his entire family – what is left of it – looking to him for help and comfort after Hurricane Mitch literally sweeps nearly everything in the village of La Rupa away. With José’s father and older brother, Victor, missing, the boy becomes the man of the family very quickly, finding inner strength that he had not realized he possessed: “I know what I have to do and I can – I will – somehow do it.” There is nothing especially unusual about a story of a young person forced to grow up quickly because of events beyond his control, but Trueman’s sure hand at scene-setting and his effective assumption of the voice of a 13-year-old (José narrates the book) are among the stylistic traits that readers of Trueman’s books will appreciate in this one. Hurricane proceeds mostly in unsurprising ways, and the eventual happy ending is forced, but preteen readers will find the conclusion satisfying, and the book certainly packs enough of an emotional punch to provide the sort of satisfaction that fans of Trueman’s works have come to expect.

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