Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins
She wished something would happen. Something good. To her. Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, Something like that. Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one. Hoping it wasn't too late, she thought the word soon.
Review: When I read the synopsis for this book, I had no idea what it was about. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why the summary is so vague. Nothing happens in the book. It’s a quiet, meandering story about the transition from childhood to the teenage years.
Compared to most middlegrade books, this one has a lot of characters. All of the characters live in the same neighborhood, and their paths keep crisscrossing. The novel mostly shows them going about their daily lives. Sometimes they notice each other, and sometimes they don’t. All the young characters are becoming interested in romance and are starting to take on adult responsibilities.
“Life was rearranging itself; bulging in places, fraying in spots. Sometimes leaving holes big enough to see through, or even step through, to somewhere else.” – Criss Cross
This book doesn't really have a plot. It’s set in a small town in the early 1970s. There are two main characters, Debbie and Hector. Debbie has agreed to help an elderly woman with her housework. Hector has started taking guitar lessons and is desperate to impress a girl in his class. Debbie and Hector are acquaintances who get together every week to listen to a radio show with their mutual friends. The reader knows that Hector and Debbie could be great friends (or even something more), but the characters are so caught up in their own lives that they don’t pay attention to each other.
I’m not sure what to say about this book. I think the story and characters are pretty forgettable. It’s a sweet, slow, realistic story about growing up. The writing is where this book shines. It’s somewhat experimental and not the type of writing you’d normally find in a children’s book. First, it’s omniscient, so you’re inside all the characters’ heads at the same time. Also, there is a lot of unusual formatting. Some chapters are written in verse. One chapter is written in columns. There are mixed-media photograph/sketch things. The format makes the story feel very immediate. Each character is on his/her own trajectory, and there are many small events happening at the same time.
I like how this novel addresses the idea of soulmates. Maybe there isn’t “one person for everyone.” Maybe there are multiple people for everyone. In this book, the characters could have ended up in any combination of relationships and been happy.
“Debbie wondered if it was true that there was only one person in the world for every person, and if she had already met him, and she either had to find a way to be around him again someday or always be alone. Romance-wise. She didn't quite believe this. What seemed more likely was that there were at least five or six people scattered around the globe who you could bump into and, wham, it would be the right thing.” – Criss Cross
This story is about near misses. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our own lives that we don’t notice other people. Your future friend or lover may be standing next to you, but you have to look away from yourself to notice them.
“Their secrets inadvertently sidestepped each other, unaware, like blindfolded elephants crossing the tiny room.” – Criss Cross
I’m not sure how I would have felt about this book if I’d read it as a kid. I think I would’ve liked the formatting, but I was a profoundly stupid child. (You could ask my teachers. They’d agree.) The subtlety of the story would have been lost on me. I probably would have been confused by all the characters. There are a lot of them, and the minor characters aren’t developed very well. I probably would have gotten them mixed up.
Ultimately, this isn’t one of my favorite Newbery winning books. I think I would have gotten bored with it as a kid. It would have been too meandering for me.
TL;DR: Beautifully written with thought-provoking themes, but otherwise forgettable.