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Joe GardenLynda Barry is best known for her eclectic weekly comic strip Ernie Pook, which mixes mundane, shocking, and bizarre ruminations on growing up with periodic storylines about monster families and poetry-reading poodles. Many themes run through both her strip and her novel: the us-against-them world of childhood and adolescence, the search for identity, and the everyday cruelties people tend to dismiss. Cruddy is told in the first person by Roberta, a 16-year-old whose psyche and features have been eternally scarred by a horrible life with abusive parents and adults who see children as either subjective vessels for gratification or recipients of their anger. Cutting across two narratives, Roberta's story is an engrossing voyage through trash America and the bleak futures native to it. The first narrative recounts the events in Roberta's recent past, a drug-fueled and ill-fated adventure that unites her with a cast of similarly marginalized youths. All these characters are brimming with a desire for escape from their cruddy town, their cruddy peers, and their convoluted and cruddy lives. The second narrative, which takes place five years earlier, recounts an unplanned road trip with her murderous alcoholic father, who searches for three suitcases filled with an inheritance out of which he feels cheated. Both stories are peppered with an assortment of Lynchian human oddities, rendered more freakish through 11-year-old or psychedelic-hazed eyes. Thankfully, Barry has a knack for incorporating and naturalizing these characters: Instead of seeming tacked-on and contrived, they add to the perception of alienation Roberta experiences throughout the book. Barry also has a knack for creating an atmosphere rich with visceral details, even bringing out a strange beauty in frightening and alien situations. Cruddy is a superbly executed book with turns that surprise and thrill, and with an ambiguous ending that leaves equal room for hope and despair.