Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wishes come true in Criss Cross

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins is a charming story about young people finding their diverse paths and interests. Aimed at an audience "ages 10 up", the book delighted me with its focus on almost insignificant events that have the potential for individual growth and development.

The front flyleaf to the book includes a series of extracts from the first chapter, in which Debbie Pelbry makes a wish:
She wished something would happen.

Something good. To her.

Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, something like that.

Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one.

Hoping it wasn't too late, she thought the word soon.
The 337-page book is filled with accounts of good things happening to her, some of which happen outside of her awareness, some of which she notices without comprehending their significance, and some of which lead to her own sense of being a better-integrated individual. Wishes come true.

"the spectrum of connectedness", illustration from Criss Cross
The Summary from the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is: "Teenagers in a small town experience new thoughts and feelings, question their identities, connect, and disconnect as they search for the meaning of life and love." The connectedness and disconnectedness is not just among the teenagers, but also involves adult figures in the story.

One short interchange between mother and daughter happens when Debbie receives a letter from a boy she had met recently.

Debbie showed her [mother] the photo, thinking, this will explain everything; now she will understand. It was a school picture of a boy with chin-length blond hair, parted down the middle and tucked behind his ears. He wore wire-rimmed glasses, a T-shirt, a denim jacket.

So often in books, or in movies, one character looks at another character and understands in a precise way what that person is feeling. 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.

Helen did sense something, an undercurrent. She thought that Debbie probably had a crush on the boy. But California was pretty far away, and she couldn't have gotten to know him very well in such a short time. Maybe they would exchange a few letters.

"He looks very nice," she said. "He's a cute boy."

"He is nice," said Debbie.

It was as close as she could come to saying, "I need to go to California. Can I?"

But it wasn't very close, not close enough. Her mother had no way of knowing that this would have been a good time to tell her daughter that she had once known a boy who went away. A boy who had made a game of finding little figures of dogs, and giving them to her. They might have talked about how that felt, and what you did next. But their secrets inadvertently sidestepped each other, unaware, like blindfolded elephants crossing the tiny room.

Criss CrossThe book recently won the John Newbery Medal for most outstanding contribution to children's literature.

The author tells the story in a very playful way, with her prose and illustrations playing off each other. In the middle of the book appears the "Japanese Chapter," in which haiku and other forms of Japanese poetry become the primary mode of communication.

The author drew on her experiences of growing up in Springdale and Cheswick to add local color to this story based in a fictionalized version of the Pittsburgh area, with events happening in towns with names such as Seldem, Arland, Birdvale, Hesmont, and New Bridge. I would recommend this book to people from any area who are trying to understand the mysterious twists and turns of life.

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Anonymous said...

i love crisscross i is a great book and i think it is a great book for
young adults great work on the review

Anonymous said...

Criss Cross is a great book. It is a good oppritunity for tweens and teens to learn about how love might be or learn about how love might not be.

Anonymous said...

Even though there is no plot whatsoever, the book has great writing and wonderful intentions.

Stewart said...

How can so many things happen in the book and there still not be a plot?

I don't think it is accurate to say that there is no plot. Rather, it has a very unconventional plot that exposes the myth being told in all the other books, plays, movies, or TV shows that have those conventional plots.

If at the end of the day someone were to ask me what happened today, and I were to say "Nothing", either I was not paying attention or I would be hiding something.

Anonymous said...

This book in most ways and in no ways had a plot or didn't. It was just about the many different experiences of 5 teenage kids during their own time, That would be the plot. It is plotless if you consider random to be plotless but in theory that is the plot. I enjoyed this book a lot and would reccomend it to anyone that is ages 11-16 (Boys or girls).

Anonymous said...

never read it, but might for a school book project. i've read the comments and what the review said, and from what i see, it sounds like a great book! kind of weird tho............didn't really understand what the hey was going on.

isabel said...

this book is terrible!!there is no plot in this book, it leads to nowhere, and it doesnt even have one main character!this is a book i would never reccomend and i dont understand why or how it got a medal!

Anonymous said...

i agree w/ isabel i didnt like it at all it had no point watsoeva

Erin said...

Criss Cross was an interesting book. It didn't exactly have a plot, but I couldn't exactly say it didn't have one at all. I think that maybe if the author had focused more on Hector and Debbie without changing so much to characters like Dan Persik and Lenny, and introducing practically useless characters like Phillip, the story would have been less confusing and more exciting.
Overall, it had an excellent moral. I'm now faced with doing an essay on the book, which will be so much easier said than done, because of all the confusing points in the book.
Lynne Rae Perkins did an excellent job. If she hadn't, the book wouldn't have been nominated for Newberry. =)

Anonymous said...

whoever isabel is your just hating on the book it is a great book DONT HATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

jasmine said...

ya could anyone tell me at least a plot on the book for a project? thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Read this for a class, and I do not like it at all! The book does not focus enough on one single character, and the author could have done without characters such as Phil, Dan, and Russell. There is absolutely no plot, and it ends up nowhere. I do not understand at all how this book won an award. I only read this because I had only 5 days to read a Newberry, and I really regret it.

Stewart said...

I'm sorry you didn't like the book. If you think the book did not end up anywhere, is it possible that you did not notice where the book started?

Anonymous said...

This book was very good! I think that young audults everywhere are just waiting to open up a book like this...! :)

Michelle said...

Can some one help me find the conflict in this book PLEASE

Stewart said...

Michelle, it is an internal conflict. The author starts describing the conflict on page 1 in the first sentence: "She wished something would happen."

This is an internal conflict Debbie has because of the expectations others (such as the magazine she is reading) tell her she ought to be experiencing, or should want to experience.

Read the short first chapter carefully and see if that helps you recognize the internal conflict. Pay attention to what the author tells you about the effect the magazine is having on Debbie at her age at the start of the story.

Is Debbie getting consistent messages from the article and the pictures that go along with it?

How is Debbie going to recognize if something good happens to her?