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UU author wins Newbery for 'Criss Cross'

Thoughtful teen novel weaves in themes from various world religions.
By Keith Kron
Summer 2006 5.15.06

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Lynne Rae Perkins

Lynne Rae Perkins, author of 2006 Newbery Medal-winner Criss Cross.

Rarely does a book slow down enough to capture the true pace of life. Criss Cross, winner of the 2006 Newbery Medal for children’s literature, meanders through the lives of several teenagers. The book begins with Debbie, the main character from Lynne Rae Perkins’s earlier All Alone in the Universe, waiting for something to happen. Over the summer her life crisscrosses with a cast of other teens in her small town. Their everyday moments—losing a necklace, listening to a radio program in a truck—become occasions to contemplate who they are and what they love.

Some readers may find the pace too slow as they, like Debbie, wait for something to happen. But the last third of the book is quite wonderful, filled with magical stories and passages. Toward the end Debbie helps out a neighbor whose teenage grandson Peter has come to visit. The three forge a connection that allows them to see one another clearly and talk openly about what matters. Peter theorizes at one point, “I think . . . that it’s a good thing to get out of your, you know, usual surroundings. Because you find things out about yourself that you didn’t know, or you forgot. And then you go back to your regular life, and you’re changed, you’re a little bit different because you take those new things with you. Like a Hindu, except all in one life: you sort of get reincarnated depending on what happened and what you figured out.” I longed for more of these interactions.

Perkins, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse, Michigan, subtly weaves in themes from various world religions. She turns an attentive and gentle eye on large questions about love and purpose and honesty, as well as smaller ones such as what to wear to school and whether to continue with music lessons. At times the writing feels like poetry, at other times like the authentic voices of 14-year-olds yearning for meaningful life to begin.

Don’t expect action. Expect thoughtfulness, creativity, a smile, and an invitation to search for life’s meaning.

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