Gr 6-9-- In a tedious, stilted narrative with little action, a college student is summoned home by his parents to help search for his younger brother, Richard, who has run away. At a tourist cabin motel in upstate New York, he finds his brother's journal. In the stack of notebooks, which comprise all but the first chapter of the book, Richard writes about his life, revealing a town full of one-dimensional, stereotypical characters. To Richard, intent on becoming ``cultured,'' the only interesting people in the whole town are his best friend, Sam, and his new English teacher, Mr. Angel. Despised and ridiculed by his students and their parents, Mr. Angel becomes the victim of unkind pranks until one night he is, implausibly, murdered. No one in the town cares. The young man's didactic outpourings are as tiresome as the people he describes. Slow pacing, vapid characters, and a whining narrator guarantee that young adults will put the book down before they get to the death of the teacher. Stick with Lois Duncan's Killing Mr. Griffin (Little, 1978) for a fast-paced, more believable story. --Alice Casey Smith, Chappaqua Library, NY
Here's a dark, compelling tale about an outsider that's also an intensely disturbing portrait of a dysfunctional family and a malignant society. The notebooks of runaway 15-year-old Richard Shaw, left in a motel room, tell the story. Through them, we meet Mr. and Mrs. Shaw and get to know Richard himself, who initially seems an intelligent but whiny, unpleasant kid with every advantage but little appreciation. As Haugaard's measured story gradually evolves, though, we begin to see Richard in a different light, and through a series of carefully orchestrated, descriptive episodes we learn that Richard's teenage rebellion and his questioning of his parents' values have strong roots. We come to appreciate why he finds his mother to be little more than a well-meaning featherbrain and his father to be weak, materialistic, and untrustworthy, a dangerous stereotype of small-town parochialism. We learn, too, about the incident that precipitates Richard's running away--the brutal murder of Mr. Angel, the high school English teacher who, like Richard, is somehow out of step with the rest of the town. We don't see enough of Mr. Angel to appreciate his specialness, and Haugaard is too heavy-handed (there's even an "outsider" Jew among the characters), but we certainly feel the evil that pervades the community as well as the anguish Richard feels when he names the killer but is forced by his father to play the fool. A harsh view of human nature and the convoluted emotional ties that link families together, this is a book that will give readers much to think about.