Grade 8 Up–Benji moves in with his emotionally distant father and well-meaning stepmother, Janet, to escape his alcoholic mothers boyfriends sexual abuse. Unfortunately, he cant escape his demons. He spends his days at his Oregon high school scribbling his misery in notebooks and getting stoned with other misfits. His only hopeful thoughts are of Lacie, the troubled girl he left behind. These feelings become conflicted when he is attracted to Rianna, a popular girl from a poor family who works hard to achieve the goals set by her parents. Benjis inner turmoil, though authentic to his situation, grows tiresome, and the plot becomes mired in overwritten self-flagellation. Jamess female characters shine; Rianna and Lacie are both sharply drawn in relatively few strokes. Earnest, levelheaded Janet is the unlikely heroine, and her gentle absolution when Benji confesses his abuse defies centuries of stepmother stereotyping. This poignant climactic scene is masterfully written and points the story smoothly to its satisfying, uplifting conclusion. Unfortunately, the narratives lulling pace and somber mood may put teens off before they reach these triumphant last pages. Though less subtle than Kathleen Jeffrie Johnsons Target (Millbrook, 2003), Jamess portrait of male post-rape depression is heartbreaking and believable.–Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
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Gr. 9-12. Benji (also known as Dogboy) has a riveting story. It is written in hard, first-person language, and there is fear and drugs and cursing and more fear, but it is also deeply poetic. Benji has moved from his alcoholic mother's trailer--but more important away from her abusive boyfriend--to live with his distant and controlling father and his wife. Benji, who keeps a journal to try to name and define his demons, calls both his former girlfriend and Rianna, the new girl he clings to, his angels. He hopes that somehow, in some way, they will save him. Benji has to save himself, but it is the open and gentle persistence of his stepmother, and the realization that Rianna, too, has demons to fight, that allow him to do so. Powerful, compelling, and, in the end, almost sweet. GraceAnne DeCandido
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