Thursday, September 6, 2012

2013 Contenders: Freaky Fast Frankie Joe, by Lutricia Clifton

When Frankie Joe's mother is sent to jail, he has to leave behind his friends at the trailer park in Laredo, Texas, and move to northern Illinois with a father, stepmother, and four half-brothers that he's never met. This doesn't sit well with Frankie Joe, and he immediately begins making plans for his escape -- plans that come to include earning money through his own business, Freaky Fast Frankie Joe's Delivery Service.

I tend to expect "new kid comes to a small, quirky town" books to have a female protagonist, so Frankie Joe was something of a breath of fresh air to me. His voice, that of a twelve-year-old who's been entirely uprooted, was my favorite thing about the book. He's a living, three-dimensional character, one whose struggles and challenges became real as I turned the pages.

The ending is the book's weak point -- it's brief and somewhat rushed, and didn't seem to me to fully address the issues that had been present only three pages earlier. Indeed, the writing as a whole was broader and less nuanced than I tend to prefer, with the dialogue being a bit exaggerated and the plot turns being overly telegraphed, though some of that can be explained by the age and personality of the narrator. It still had a bit too much of a storyboard feel to me though.

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe is Lutricia Clifton's first novel, and I think her career bears watching. Between this book, Neversink, Glory Be, and Wonder, it's been a banner year for first-time authors, which is cause for celebration. Freaky Fast Frankie Joe isn't sufficiently distinguished in the Newbery categories to place in this year's awards, but it's certainly a good start.

Published by Holiday House, and out now.

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