Plot Summary: “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.” Young teen Debbie, keeps hoping something will happen. Hector, Debbie’s childhood friend “felt unfinished, still in process.” Debbie, Hector, and a group of their childhood friends are all going through the complex and circuitous journey of growing up. Periodically, throughout the book, the friends gather on Saturdays to listen to Criss Cross, “the kind of radio show you would like if you liked Mad Magazine. Which they all did, or had, a few years ago.” Also, running throughout the book is the story of a necklace, that Debbie loses, that gets passed from one character to the next in a series of interesting coincidences. Will the teens find the clarity that they are searching for? Will they become who they think they will be? Who will they become, and how will they get there?
Critical Evaluation: Eclectic and creative, the writing in Criss Cross is mostly from Debbie’s or Hector’s perspective. Told in a series of interrelated vignettes, poetry, questions and answers, with illustrations and a few photographs, this book is clever, witty and provides an honest portrayal of the inner thoughts and feelings of its characters. Criss Cross is a coming of age story uniquely presented and rendered, and, though it takes place in the 1970’s, the issues and feelings that arise for the teens in the novel are fully relevant for today’s teens. As the main characters are young teens, the book is probably best suited for the younger end of teens, ages 14-16. The compelling story, accessible writing, and interesting presentation make the book a good choice for reluctant readers or teens reading a bit below grade level. Poetic and charming, Criss Cross ponders some of life’s most common questions with grace, insight and wit. Criss Cross won the 2006 Newberry Medal and is on the 2006 ALA Best Books for Young Adults list.
Reader’s Annotation: Debbie, Hector and their friends are at a crossroads. They are growing up, trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, and searching, always searching.
Information about the Author: Author and artist Lynne Rae Perkins has written and illustrated several picture books and young adult novels. I did not know this when I read it, but Criss Cross is the second novel that Perkins has written with the character of Debbie in it. The first novel is called All Alone in the Universe and is about Debbie when she is thirteen years old.
In addition to words, Perkins uses art to express herself, thus, she adds a unique element to her novels. A quote from Perkins’ website made me smile: “’Books are ideas with meat on their bones.’ I have that written down but I don’t know who said it. It might have been me, but probably not” (Perkins, n.d.)
Genre: Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction
Category: Contemporary Life: Coming of Age
Curriculum Ties: A twist on the classic coming of age novel, this novel could be compared to other more traditional coming of age novels. Perkins also provides a few ideas for teachers interested in teaching the book here.
- Do you ever wish something, anything would happen?
- Do you think we are ever finished? Complete?
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 16
Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book. Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.
Why is this book included? It won the Newberry Medal and was on YALSA’s 2006 Best Books for Young Adults list.
Perkins, L.R. (n.d.) Activities for All Alone in the Universe. Retrieved from http://www.lynneraeperkins.com/all_alone_in_the_universe_activities.htm