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by Edward Bloor
The Florida-based author of Story Time and Tangerine hits us with his biggest, deepest, richest, and most complex book yet. It is a book for teens, but not the ditzy, glitzy, image-obsessed type of teen book. Young readers who are ready to face a bit of harsh reality, or who have faced it in their own lives already, will love this book the most. This book contains the anguish of being different, the ignorance of hatred, the loneliness of being abandoned, and the heartache of love and loss. It confronts the problems of struggling small businessmen, cynical politicians and journalists, apathetic teachers and students, the mentally ill and addicted, broken and healing families, cops and suspects, and even religion.
Are you ready for all this? Are you ready for a story narrated by a 16-year-old girl whose mother was murdered seven years ago, whose father never spends time with her, and whose body is way behind in sexual development? Are you ready for Roberta’s life, divided between school (where journalism is her favorite class) and the mall (where her family runs a virtual-reality arcade)? Are you ready for a wave of hate crimes, an extreme makeover, an internship at a local TV station, a drug bust, one and a half suicides, and a case of chicken-pox that changes a girl’s life? Are you ready to see the painful ending of one friendship and the almost equally painful beginning of another? Are you ready for scary nighttime encounters, horrific daytime tragedies, daily thunderstorms that seem like the end of the world, indoor disasters, and conversations with more than one character – including a young Arab-American and a Jewish Holocaust survivor – that may challenge your thoughts and beliefs? And can you take, on top of it all, a murder mystery, a family crisis, and a teenaged survivor’s claws-extended fight to save her community?
If so, read this book. You will be well rewarded.
If not, read this book. It’s time to open your mind and your heart.
Also, it’s well written. It contains a good plug for learning the Latin language (It’s the secret language you have to learn before they let you make any money). And it makes 30-something Hagrid lookalikes cry, particularly at the point where Mrs. Weiss explains how she traveled all the way to the gates of Bergen Belsen just to leave flowers and a bundle of recipes at the gates, in memory of her mother:
I always thought that some passerby, some poor woman, picked up those recipes, took them home, and used them. Then she passed them on to her daughter, and that daughter is still using them now. That probably didn’t happen. Some fat guard probably came along and tossed the whole thing in the trash. But I’d like to think that’s what happened.
This is a thought-provoking, intelligent story, yet the pages keep effortlessly turning. It is emotionally engaging, even moving, yet not simplistic or overtly manipulative. At times it is shocking, scary, funny, and sad, yet it is never self-righteously preachy. In fact, Crusader shows that people on all shades of the opinion spectrum can be wrong, even about the things most important to them. It shows that good people can be weak, and in pain, and even pushed to the point of desperation. It shows that, in some cases, bad people can be redeemed. It shows pettiness in people you thought were good, and surprising moments of nobility from people of whom you never expected as much. But above all, it shows one girl’s determination to rise above a thick tangle of troubles.
Go ahead, just read the first little bit of it and see if you like it. But perhaps you should clear your schedule first…