So, I got done with a couple of books, and both of them are top notch: the first is Chris Crutcher's first novel, Running Loose (visit CC's site at www.chriscrutcher.com). I've admitted to a few folks that I hadn't read any of Crutcher's work because, I, wrongheadedly, thought he wrote about sports, which is not a bad topic in and of itself, but if that's all it is (which is the wrongheaded part of my thinking) then it isn't worth reading. There's got to be more meat to a book than just baseball, or long distance running, or swimming, or wrestling. And I have to admit, in Crutcher's work there is quite a bit more than a treatment of sports. There are fully-developed characters (for goodness' sake, even Boomer, who easily could've been the flattest of stereotypes (what, with being nothing more than a overly-enthused jock who brags about relationships (imaginary) with girls, who takes out a Black kid named Washington during a game simply because as an opponent he is too good and too not White) turns more human by novel's end).
[On a side note, the first book of Crutcher's I read was Athletic Shorts, his collection of stories that takes on various of the characters he'd already dealt with in his novels (this, according to CC's introduction to the book, or my recollection of it), that also includes "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune," a short story made into a fantastic film (which, if I'm honest, might be the real reason why I chose not to pick up any of Crutcher's work--he got a movie deal! And I haven't!). Anyway, the language and some of the themes are a bit on the more mature side, and so you'd have to go into this collection knowing that; in spite of that, this book is awesome!]
Back to Running Loose: Louie, after walking off the football field in response to the "hit" job on Washington, finally finds his place in sports: he runs the mile and the two-mile for his school's track team. The track coach advises him to do something, anything basically to deal with his recent tragedy. He'd fallen deeply in love with a girl he thought would never pay him any mind, then loses her. The lesson he learns is that with punks like the head coach and the principal (dishonorable men), one doesn't have to deal honorably. So as difficult as his life has been over the past year, Louie comes out of it the better man for it, a man, as Dakota says, who's gone through the fire and lived to tell about it.
The other book I've finished and loved is Night of the Howling Dogs by Graham Salisbury (www.grahamsalisbury.com), a guy I consider to be one of today's literary giants, and not just in the world of YA literature. This is one of the benefits of sharing the same editor, that I get ARCs (advanced reader's copies--also called uncorrected proofs or galley proofs) of stuff Random House is publishing in the coming months. One such book is Salisbury's. Known for his historical novels like the most recent Eyes of the Emperor, GS writes solid realistic fiction too (read his short story collection, Island Boyz for a taste of that). Howling Dogs, though, passes as both.
Very loosely based on true events, Howling Dogs is the story of boys becoming men after surviving a natural catastrophe--a volcano errupts in the middle of the night in the middle of a camping trip; "…the world fell apart" is how Dylan, our narrator, describes it. But there is depth to GS's characters: Dylan hungers for his father's attention, his best friend, Casey, is strong despite being on the smaller side, and Louie is the unlikeliest Boy Scout. GS introduces early on that Dylan shares "something personal" with Louie, a secret that goes back a ways. Louie openly shows disdain for Dylan, who is a haole, a "white guy or white punk." Then they are forced to put aside, at least for the moment, their ill feelings for one another to help save the others on the camping trip. At one point, a key moment in Dylan's life, he thinks "of Louie racing over the rocks to get help, and how when everyone was struggling to get to higher ground after the waves, he'd gone the other way," never mind the danger he was putting himself in. Troubling Dylan is whether he'd have acted so selflessly. Know this: scared as he is, he is brave, so much so that he's able to put aside the inane things of life, like insignificant skirmishes, and realizes that "When people share something terrifying like that, it joins them together and makes them a family." Of himself and Louie he can say, "We friends now."
(Night of the Howling Dogs is due out in August of 2007--Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Children's Books)