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Clara Wilson has a crooked nose. It bothers her. She fusses with it in the mirror. She thinks about plastic surgery. She touches it all of the time. Her nose doesn't bother Amos Mackenzie. He thinks she is pretty. And he will tell her so, in due time.
Crooked is the story of how Clara and Amos, both ninth-graders, get together, but it is so much more than that. During the time Clara and Amos make their way slowly toward each other, both are learning how to deal with adult problems. First, Clara's best friend dumps her, stops returning her phone calls, and starts bad-mouthing her around school. Then Clara's mother leaves home, and her father begins to date. On top of all of that, home alone one night, she narrowly escapes a dangerous situation when the thuggish brother of a friend she trusts tries to assault her. Things aren't much better for Amos. He gets in a bad accident because he tries to stop the neighborhood bullies (the very same thugs) from damaging property, which immediately makes him a school hero and, in turn, immediately teaches him the perils of popularity. The bullies continue to mess with him, paralyzing him with fear and eventually forcing him to learn how to stand up for himself. On top of all of that, Amos unexpectedly loses a parent.
It may sound melodramatic, but Crooked doesn't read that way. It reads beautifully and quickly. These are far from ordinary teenagers, and Crooked is far from an ordinary teen love story. Absent are all of the usual Beverly Hills 90210 cliches. Sure, there are the occasional popular rich girls with their nice sweaters and parentless mansions, but instead of being cool, these girls are portrayed in an unflattering light. One "hot" girl vomits fruity brandy all over her carpet and just expects the maid to clean it up. She isn't cool; she is pathetic. And Amos thinks so, too. Jocks, often portrayed as harsh frat-boy types in teen books, become Amos's mentors, helping him through bad times, offering advice and even shelter.
There are no typical obsessive teen talks about sports or trips to the mall in Crooked. Instead, there is an unusual element of reality. Both Clara and Amos come from families with money problems: Amos's mother is a waitress, his father delivers milk. Clara's family has trouble making ends meet. On top of her daily paper route, Clara starts her own business -- shoveling driveways and fetching groceries for an elderly neighborhood woman -- to make enough money to send herself to horse camp. But authors Laura and Tom McNeal don't allow money or death or anything else to make Amos or Clara bitter. Their problems don't take over their lives. They still manage long phone conversations, letters, notes in lockers, hand-holding, kisses. All of that good first-love stuff. There are misunderstandings and times when it looks like it won't work out between the two. Then Amos introduces Clara to his carrier pigeons, and Clara introduces Amos to her dog.
Amos and Clara are two complex, interesting young adults taking on whatever life has to offer and fighting back. And they still manage to fall for each other. How refreshing.