Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

It took me a while to get into this book. I listened to it while traveling and initially had a hard time keeping track of all the characters. There are a lot of them. However, it is beautifully written and lovely to listen to, so I persisted. Eventually a few characters arose to prominence. Before I knew it, I was hooked. 

It is set in a small town in the USA in the 1970's.
It could have been the small town here in Canada where I grew up.

It is the story of a group of adolescents hovering on the cusp of adulthood. Nothing spectacular happens. They are quietly, awkwardly, coming to terms with themselves in reference to each other and what they want for their future.

It is introspective and philosophical. It resonates with deep truths about what it means to be human.

“I know I'm still young and there's a lot of time for things to happen, but sometimes I think there is something about me that's wrong, that I'm not the kind of person anyone can fall in love with, and that I'll always just be alone.”

My 14 year old self is half way in love with Hector. His older sister took him to a coffee house where, after watching a guitar player and having a 'satori' moment, he decides to learn to play. His father arranged for him to take lessons in the church basement. Two important people are part of this group. Meadow, who Hector develops a crush on, and Dan, the football star, who girls usually consider a hunk.

Hector's compassion, comfortable acceptance of who he is, and readiness to laugh at himself and his circumstances make him an ideal role model for all boys.

Debbie, another significant character, has a crush on Dan, the school football star.

Dan is the character I worry about. He has the potential to become a good person, but it will take work on his part and I am not sure he is capable of it.

I liked the use of the omniscient narrator who not only tells the story, but adds quirky commentary at the same time.

I loved the introspection - the peaking inside different individual's heads. I sometimes wonder if what goes on inside young men is really any different from what goes on inside young women.

I'm getting this one for our library


  1. Your review really captures what is so lovely and right about this book: it's absolutely a story about what it means to be human, and while in some ways, every book is about that, only a few books really try to articulate something that's largely inarticulable about the experience of being alive and stuck in our minds and our bodies and trying to make connections with others, connections which are always doomed to be incomplete in some way. I do think this is a children's book that has absolutely zero kid appeal. I don't even think it's possible for a child reader to perceive what Perkins is doing philosophically here. But I am still thrilled it won the Newbery, because without that shiny gold sticker, I never would have picked it up and persevered until I got hooked. Have you read All Alone in the Universe? Criss Cross is actually a sequel of sorts; Debbie's story begins in All Alone in the Universe. I just got it from the library yesterday and think it might be my first read of 2015.

  2. Thank you so much for your response. Even as I wrote those words "it resonates with deep truths about what it means to be human, I knew all books have something to say about this but this one says it with so much more eloquence. I probably wouldn't have picked it up without that sticker either, so I'm glad it won. It breaks my heart that it doesn't circulate, but when I weed it, I think I'll keep it for myself. Thank you so much for letting me know about All Alone in the Universe. I've put it on hold at the library and included it in my 2015 must reads list. I can't wait to read your comments on it.