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Under the Wolf, Under the DogReview - Under the Wolf, Under the Dog
by Adam Rapp
Candlewick, 2004
Review by Lorraine Rice
Jan 2nd 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 53)

A World Suddenly Black

At best teenage years are trying, and at worst they can be devastating and cripple the emerging adult's psyche. If you ask parents what is the worst fear they have, they would tell you that one of their children would die. If you ask adults what was the greatest fear they had as a child, they would tell you that it was that one or both of their parents would not return home, especially their mother. We can all remember imagining the horrible accident that took her life as we waited for the phone call that would confirm our fears that time she was unexpectedly late coming home from shopping, or work, or some errand that took her out of the house. For most of us the call never came, and we breathed a sigh of relief when our mother finally came home. Somehow though, those who do lose their mothers before they are fully adults become like those wind-up toys that race across the floor until they bump into a wall and then flip over and spin their wheels, grinding their gears until the spring wears down.† Steve Nugent is such a boy.

For all intents and purposes, Steve Nugent is a typical, though intellectually gifted, teenager who is unhappy with the culture of time and place in which he has been placed by fate. He complains in his diary that "...with regard to the modern world, the places around Foote and East Foote [his hometown] are still like forty years behind." Like many teenagers he is torn between a desire to escape and a desire to be home. But home becomes a dramatically different landscape when his mother dies of cancer, and his depressed older brother commits suicide. A new script for his life needs to be written, but his grief-stricken father is so consumed with his own pain that he fails to see the boy's downward spiral and Steve is sent to Burnstone Grove, a boarding facility for emotionally disturbed teens.

Here Steve struggles to find his place in the world through examining his past in the diary assignment of his therapist, Mrs. Leene. This first person narration allows the reader to wander around inside Steve's head, but this stream-of-consciousness confession occasionally leaves the reader with a confused sense of time sequence. In the main however, it is a compelling story with a lingering shadow of foreboding of the teenager's eventual fate. The language, events, and situations may be those encountered by any age teen, but they may be too graphic and intense for those under 16 years old. On the other hand, a mature teenager will appreciate Adam Rapp's literary style and rich figurative descriptions. The author never neglects an opportunity to wrap the reader in Steve's keen sense of observation and his own powerful command of imagery such as the old YMCA that "looks like some failed arsonist's project [and] feels like some strange cross between a mental institution and a halfway house for war criminals," or the ordinary dad who lives in Foote whose "eyes were hard and little, like they had been drilled into his skull with a screw gun. Magazine hair. Clothes the color of ice cream. Shoes from that men's store in the mall. The perfect white teeth."

The story Rapp has woven of Steve Nugent's voyage of self-discovery is a heart-breaking tale that makes you wonder how anyone survives adolescence, but it is also a story that is not without humor and little touches of irony such as Steve's declaration of the "only kind of book I like--one that's so real you want to find out everything there is to know about the person who wrote it." This is Steve's story and if it were set to music, it would painfully tug at your heartstrings.†

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© 2005 Lorraine Rice

 

Lorraine Rice provides the following information about herself.

  • Adjunct Professor of English and ESL at Suffolk Community College, NY for 16 years.
  • Poet and Artist My web page: http://hometown.aol.com/euterpel66/myhomepage/poetry.html
  • Widow and mother of three adult children and one granddaughter.
  • BA St. John's University, Jamaica NY
  • MA SUNY at Stony Brook, NY
  • Like to explore: the Internet, evolutionary-psychology, countries, books, people, outdoors, flea markets, and old roads.
  • Like to create: portraits, gardens, found-object sculpture, lists, poems, and friendships.
  • Like to travel: to most of US States, Canada, Bermuda, England, Brazil, China, and Mexico.


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