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Criss Cross Hardcover – Aug 30 2005
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 6-9–The author of the popular All Alone in the Universe (HarperCollins, 1999) returns with another character study involving those moments that occur in everyone's life–moments when a decision is made that sends a person along one path instead of another. Debbie, who wishes that something would happen so she'll be a different person, and Hector, who feels he is unfinished, narrate most of the novel. Both are 14 years old. Hector is a fabulous character with a wry humor and an appealing sense of self-awareness. A secondary story involving Debbie's locket that goes missing in the beginning of the tale and is passed around by a number of characters emphasizes the theme of the book. The descriptive, measured writing includes poems, prose, haiku, and question-and-answer formats. There is a great deal of humor in this gentle story about a group of childhood friends facing the crossroads of life and how they wish to live it. Young teens will certainly relate to the self-consciousnesses and uncertainty of all of the characters, each of whom is straining toward clarity and awareness. The book is profusely illustrated with Perkins's amusing drawings and some photographs.–B. Allison Gray, John Jermain Library, Sag Harbor, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Gr. 6-9. This lyrical sequel to All Alone in the Universe (1999), a Booklist Editor's Choice, begins with one of many black-and-white drawings and a caption that reads, "People move back and forth in this area like molecules in steam." As the title and caption imply, this story reads like a series of intersecting vignettes--all focused on 14-year-old Debbie and her friends as they leave childhood behind. Perkins writes with subtle, wry humor about perceptive moments that will speak directly to readers: universe-expanding crushes, which fill the world with "signs and wonder"; scornful reappraisals of childhood things (Debbie's disdain for Nancy Drew is particularly funny); urgent concerns about outfits, snappy retorts, and self-image. Perkins adds many experimental passages to her straightforward narrative, and she finds poetry in the common exchanges between teens. One section of dialogue, written entirely in haiku, reads, "Jeff White is handsome, / but his hair is so greasy. / If he would wash it--." A few cultural references set the book in the 1970s, but most readers will find their contemporaries in these characters. Best of all are the understated moments, often private and piercing in their authenticity, that capture intelligent, likable teens searching for signs of who they are, and who they'll become. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The summary on the copyright page says something like "Teens in a small town search for the meaning of love and life". This already gives you an overview of the book and explains what "Criss Cross" is truly about-if you look. I agree with several people who commented that they didn't enjoy the fact that the publishers put Debbie's "she wished something would happen" lines on the cover. This made "Criss Cross" seem like a fairytale, when really it's the opposite. A lot of books out there seem to follow one laid-out storyline throughout the book, but real life doesn't always follow that pattern. Sometimes, we can put together certain fazes of our life into a story, but sometimes, life just goes on, without major problems like death, divorce, moves, etc. That was one thing I really liked about "Criss Cross". The author made several funny and intellectual observations, and by the end of the book I was able to smile and say, "That's so true." I think the reason this product received such low reviews is that the readers were expecting a straight-forward story kind of book, instead of one that was more about life in general than a special time in life. I can appreciate that some readers might fidget, bored by the book, but I think you just have to go in reading "Criss Cross" with an open mind. I found that it was honestly written and well...what can I say, I really liked it! It's just one of those books that you can take out and smile. I was very offended by some of the reviews, but as I said earlier, "Criss Cross" is not your "normal" book. If you're expecting a "normal" book, I wouldn't recommend this, but if you're open to books where you have to work a little harder to get, this book is for you. My mom is going to read "Criss Cross" next and I am looking forward to talking about it when she's down, because it's the sort of book that's fun to talk about.
So why do I think "Criss Cross" won the "Newbery Medal"? "Criss Cross" is funny, observant, and honest. It makes sense. It's definitely much better than most of the books in Teen Literature, which are only about dating and popularity cliques. Sure a few of the girls in "Criss Cross" are into boys, but I still enjoyed them as characters. Some girls do like boys and I was able to respect the girls portrayed in "Criss Cross", instead of gagging like I usually do after reading about boy-crazy girls in some books. I was pleased to find a book for my age group that I could enjoy, as I often read adult books because of the limited interest level of books for kids my age (I recently read "My Sister's Keeper"-great book!). Just keep an open mind reading "Criss Cross". You have to think every so now and then, but I guarantee that once you give it a chance, you will not be sorry! I hope that the majority of people who read this review will think twice about what "Criss Cross" is about, because I think a few reviewers weren't trying hard enough to enjoy the essence of "Criss Cross". That is a fault of the humankind.
Debbie and Hector are having a time of it. Let's talk about Debbie first, though. She's fourteen and feeling particularly dull and uninteresting. She likes boys (she likes a football player boy for one) but she freezes up when she talks to them. Fortunately she has her old friends, friends since childhood, to help her out of being uncomfortable. She has Mrs. Bruning, the old German lady neighbor, to help out when the woman's arthritis is acting up. And she has Mrs. Bruning's cute grandson to get to know in the midst of what turns out to be a particularly big emergency. Then there's Hector. Hector, in a burst of not wanting to consider himself roly-poly and dull too, is learning the guitar. He likes a girl who is also learning, but at the same time he's resentful of her other admirer. Still, in spite of everything he's seeing the world in different ways and trying to figure out how he fits into it. It makes for a unique little summer.
Now I first came across the works of Ms. Lynne Rae Perkins through her picture books. When "The Broken Cat" came out I was bemused. When "Snow Music" hit the shelves I was in love. Now I've read, "Criss Cross" and I'm enthralled. I am a little sad that the publishers took the first sentence in the book, "She wished something would happen" and plopped it smack dab on the cover. Due to Ms. Perkins' quiet unassuming style, a person that requires all their books to contain gossip, glory, gore (and preferbly a smattering of all three) might be less than taken with the subdued nature of the story. I'll tell you right now that this isn't one of those books where someone overdoses on heroin and someone else gets caught in a bear trap (paging "Kira-Kira"). Now when I review a children's novel for Amazon.com I like to stick little tiny pieces of paper between the pages that I find contain sections I'd prefer to discuss in my review. Sometimes I stick them in because the sections are funny. Sometimes I stick them in because they show where a passage didn't work or the book made some kind of mistake. In this particular case I stuck in (one... two... three) six little slips of paper. Every single one of these is in a section that I thought was especially brilliant. Not a single one constitutes a literary flaw or a difficult-to-understand area. I cannot think of a better physical indication of how much I liked this book.
So let's go through the sections, shall we? First of all, Perkins has a gift of description that instantly recognizable as her own particular style. If you read "Snow Music" and then you read "Criss Cross" you have no doubts left in your furry little brain that the two books were written by the same dame. In this case, I loved the moment when the character of Hector was hoping that perhaps his eyes could move farther apart as he matured, "like a flounder's". I loved how Hector's sister Rowanne is a tentative driver and, "being in a car with her as she felt her way over the winding back roads was like being inside a flashlight held by someone searching for a contact lens". I liked the moment where Debbie speaks to an elderly lady and the books notes that, "She was one of those elderly women whose cleavage starts about two inches below her collarbone and your main response to it is an intellectual curiosity about how that can even physically work". God, I loved that line. Finally (because I can't go transcribing every cute little sentence from this book word for word) I loved this sentence: "So often in real life, one person wants to be understood, but obscures her feelings with completely unrelated words and facial expressions, while the other person is trying to remember whether she did or didn't turn off the burner under the hard-boiled eggs". The book has so much to say about class and change that reading it is akin to watching little fireworks of well-penned sentences burst over and over again.
And then there's the photography, the line drawings, the diagrams, and the eclectic level of art that fills this book to the brim. There's a wonderful, almost Robert Crumb-like illustration of Debbie's very intricate understanding of good bellbottom jeans. When she agrees to a pair of horrible pants and immediately regrets her choice (though they look semi-okay in the store), the books says, "If she could have spent her whole life in the tiny private dressing room, she might have worn those pants a lot". But back to the art. Perkins created all her own art for her picture books, so it should come as little surprise that she does the same thing here. Books for older kids, teens, and adults don't have a lot of pictures in them anymore so the feeling that comes from holding up a copy of this book is to be slightly weirded out. One librarian I showed it to flipped past the bookflap (which is interesting enough) and let out a low "woah" as she scanned the oddities that pop up unexpectedly every once in a while.
If I have any objections to the book at all it is that we have no clear idea when the story takes place (I decided it had to be 1979, but I could be wrong) or where it may be. We know that the town's name is Seldem but we aren't entirely certain what state that might be. Being a Michigan native (much like Perkins herself) I hoped against hope that the story was in that state. Then I read the part that described the mountains and that hope went ah-flyin' out the window. So maybe a little more clarification on the wheres and the whens wouldn't have been out of place. Now technically "Criss Cross" is a sequel to "All Alone In the Universe". I have admittedly not read "All Alone In the Universe". Fortunately, the book does not require a deeper knowledge of the characters than you would already get here.
The book actually kind of reminded me of Margaret Mahy's wonderful and somewhat forgotten, "Catalogue of the Universe". If you're a fan of this novel, definitely check that one out as well. Oh, and just to get you particularly tetchy parents out of the way, there is some swearing and a mention of menstrual cycles in this story. If you don't like it, don't read it. They work beautifully within the story and I wouldn't have them removed for anything in the world. I wouldn't have a word or sentence transplanted for all of Solomon's gold. This is a lovely book and I am FINALLY pleased with a Newbery winner again. And while I don't think it's actually going to be enjoyed by that many children, teens should definitely take to it. Or at least take a look.
I couldn't put this book down in the bookstore, devouring the first 20 pages before I left. I bought the book and read it quickly, amazed that such a fantastic book would be so deservingly awarded. It's hit and miss sometimes with Newbery books.
In "Criss Cross" I loved that "nothing happens," to use the biggest criticism posters have made. That's the point. If you look at the average life of a person, on a given summer, you won't likely see huge external events taking place. More likely, you'll maybe find the characters a little different on the inside. Especially if they're middle schooler.
I read "All Alone in the Universe" after I read "Criss Cross," and I loved it as well. Both books share Seldem and Debbie, but I wouldn't call them "sequels." They're more like stories about the same person around the same time. You might understand some of the quietness and details about Debbie more if you read "Universe" first, but it isn't necessary.
Perkins is a gifted author, and I'm now a devoted fan. I will definitely use her books to teach Middle School Language Arts classes, especially "Universe," which holds as its central theme the idea of friendship and what happens when your best friend finds a new best friend and you are left heartbroken. It's beautiful.
Teachers will love using this book in the classroom. What a fantastic book for showing their students what life was like when they were younger, yet, be a book
that feels like it's taking place today for the students who are reading it. I love the fact that both parents and teens will enjoy reading the same book. It's a delightful book that takes the readers on a funny self-discovery journey. If it was an action-packed thriller it wouldn't be this gem of a book.
I guess I tend to really like these "slice of life" sorts of books, because I found myself reading this rather quickly and smoothly. Sure, nothing really goes on in the story, but I guess that is Debbie's complaint to begin with. I imagine many people grew up similar to Debbie and her friends. I know I sure did. Although I am originally from Canada, I can certainly relate to the Midwestern vibe in this book, having grown up an hour away from the Minnesota border. When I was about the age of the characters (who, at the beginning of the book, were about 14-ish if my math is correct), I can remember spending my summers just hanging out with old friends from whom, in hindsight, I was clearly growing apart in my sleepy hometown. As far as catching that small town Midwestern feel, I thought that Lynne Rae Perkins nailed it perfectly.
I also liked all of the characters. It was great that they were slightly quirky and flawed, which I imagine is how many teenagers feel. They were not perfect. While their physical descriptions were a bit vague, I could imagine them being average looking rather than Sweet Valley High perfect. They also seemed to be outwardly confident, but not the "coolest" or most popular kids in the school, which I also found refreshing. I know that it probably would not have flowed with the storyline very well and would have made the book even longer, but I wish that the author had tapped into the minor characters a bit more. I found myself wanting to know more about Lenny, Phil, Patty, Russell, Meadow and Rowanne in particular. I also wanted to learn more about Debbie's family. Her sister Chrisanne was referred to a few times, but where was she now? Perhaps it is alluded to and I missed it, but I wanted to know more about her. The dynamic Debbie had with her mother was intriguing as well and I wanted to learn more. It reminded me of my relationship with my mother. I suppose I could relate to being the quirky daughter of a woman who seemed to be more beautiful, confident and happy as a teenager. While I don't think that there were any crazy mother issues, I was fascinated by their relationship and the fact that perhaps they didn't completely "get" one another, similar to my mother and myself.
OK, so it's clear that I liked this book, but would I recommend it to a child? Never. On the inner sleeve it says "for ages 10 and up". Uh huh. What child would ever read this book? I haven't the foggiest idea. At my library, we either have reluctant readers or children who have read everything in the library but want something else to be recommended to them. I would recommend this book to neither of these groups. I agree with the reviewer who said that this book would be best for seasoned Young Adult readers at best. I actually laugh at the thought of handing this 300 page book from the adult section to a child! Or booktalking it to a fifth grade class: "If you want to read 300 pages about the daily goings on of quirky teenagers growing up in a sleepy Midwestern town of yesteryear while exchanging Dawsons Creek-esque banter then read Criss Cross." Ha!
However, I cannot blame the author for the fact that her book has been wrongly recommended as a children's book. I also cannot let it affect the rating I give this book or let my Newbery rants cloud this review. However, I am truly and genuinely puzzled by the fact that this book won an award for CHILDREN'S literature. Can I say this enough? I know very few children who would enjoy this book and although I personally liked it as a 30 year old woman, I acknowledge that what I like is different from what I would recommend to a child. Reading this book made me weepy for the days when books like "Dear Mr. Henshaw", an actual KIDS BOOK, received the Newbery. What's going on here?
Sigh...I'm off to read some more Ramona books.
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