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The Bulletin
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The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Brooks, Kevin. Kissing the Rain.
Chicken House/Scholastic, 2004 [336p]
ISBN 0-439-57742-X $16.95
Reviewed fom galleys
Gr. 7-12

Hard choices have been the mainstay of the young adult novel since the inception of the genre, back when Jerry chose to defy the Vigils in Cormier’s The Chocolate War (BCCB 7/74); it was also true when Susan went with the crowd in Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin (10/78), or, more recently, when Young yielded his independence to his charismatic best friend in Giles’ Shattering Glass (5/02). These novels set up situations wherein there is a right choice, though that right choice may be the painful one, the one regrettably left untaken, or even the doomed one. Sometimes, however, a right choice is a luxury that an individual simply doesn’t have, and the only free will one can exercise is to favor one evil over another—and neither is the lesser. Such is the situation of Kevin Brooks’ Moo Nelson in Kissing the Rain.

Moo is a largely miserable teenager, tormented at school as the fat kid (by predictable downpours of abuse he terms “the rain”), depressed by the sameness and limitations of his home. His favorite occupation is to hang out on the footbridge over the highway, watching the cars go by (he’s a bit of a car aficionado) and enjoying the soothing noise and motion, and one day from this vantage point he observes a strange event, a peculiar altercation between the driver of one car and the people in another. After talking to the police, he finds himself caught in a power struggle. One police officer wants him to change his story to ensure the rigged altercation gets the driver, a known criminal, put in prison as planned. Other officers want Moo to keep to his story (especially if it means implicating the crooked cop who staged the event and who wants Moo to lie), and so does the driver’s posh lawyer and the driver himself, a menacing figure who makes it clear that Moo will have to pay a high price if he lies.

British author Brooks (Martyn Pig, BCCB 9/02) creates a believable, idiosyncratic voice for Moo, making him vivid as a person in his own right and not just as the object of events. Though his quandary is intricate, it’s also clearly and bleakly presented: the truth gets Moo the enmity of a police officer who has the ability to put Moo’s father away for welfare fraud and a frightening connection to a dangerous underworld figure; a lie gets him the enmity of that underworld figure but puts him away, while keeping his father out of jail (“I know I AIN’T doing the right thing,” thinks Moo despairingly, “cos there AIN’T no right thing to DO. There’s just 2 wrong things”). Brooks adds interesting complications with the changes in Moo’s status at school (as a result of his chief persecutor’s connection to one of the police officers as well as his increased notoriety) and his awkward relationship with his fellow bully-prey, Brady, who makes a foolish decision as a result of Moo’s changed status in an attempt to garner his own increased credibility. There’s an understandable change in Moo as, trapped, he begins to grow weary and indifferent to the price he may pay, and as he sets out to resolve the situation with a third possibility, one so dark and drastic neither side will expect it.

Most bracing of all is the book’s refusal to compromise its toughness. Moo isn’t in a dilemma because he’s a kid and therefore can’t see the long-term view, but because this situation offers no acceptable way out. That’s not a quandary that usually appears in literature for young people, but it’s certainly one that occurs in real life. The psychological-thriller element of this absorbing novel will definitely appeal to readers, but many will also grimly empathize with the no-exit nature of Moo’s life. (Imprint information appears on p. 224.)

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

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Cover illustration by James L. Amos/Corbis from Kissing the Rain ©2004. Used by permission of The Chicken House/Scholastic, Inc.

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This page was last updated on February 1, 2004.