From Publishers Weekly
Varallo retreads the familiar cul-de-sacs of bored, awkward suburban adolescence in these 12 solemn tales that comprise his listless debut collection. As the eighth-grade narrator of "The Eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg" yearns for his neighbor Carolyn and goofs off with his friend Ben, whose college-age older brother Mark commits suicide, he mulls over The Great Gatsby. The latchkey sixth-grade narrator of "The Pines" (his artist father took up with a college student and ditched his mother) is all too vulnerable to an older bully who drags him into minor vandalism. In "A Dictionary of Saints," the 14-year-old protagonist defies peer pressure and attends the birthday party of unpopular Brady Carson, who accepts his friendship with prickly pride instead of gratitude. "Sunday Wash" establishes a sympathetic kinship between a young boy, Jody, and his mother's well-meaning, but ill-equipped, live-in boyfriend, Ron, when the boy-still grieving his dead father-breaks down in a car wash. Varallo sympathetically paints children unbalanced by death or divorce, but his understated prose aims for insight without often reaching it.
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In this fine debut collection, a young girl says, "There are times so unremarkable in every way, so dull and ordinary, that, when looked back upon with the knowledge of their outcome, stand out like a dime run through the wash." Many of Varallo's characters are approaching adolescence. They're watchful young people who see and feel life's dull and ordinary moments with intensity, sometimes finding glimmering truths in the connections between them. In one selection, a girl at a sleepover observes her host family's living room and sees, in the magazine-strewn coffee table and piano sheet music, clues to what makes a happy family. In another, a boy who finally visits the bedroom of his fierce crush is saddened to find that the objects--a purple bra, a ball of socks--only make him feel more "insubstantial." Tragedy, sorrow, and violence appear on the stories' edges, but through his young characters' quiet, startling perceptions, Varallo seems to celebrate children's intelligence and resilience and the "vast valley charged with mystery and consequence" that is growing up. Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved