In his bright debut, Tangerine, author Edward Bloor introduced us to a legally blind kid who, frankly, sees reality a heck of a lot better than anyone around him. Paul Fisher, that soccer-playing wonder with bottle-thick glasses and a heart of gold, leapt into adolescent literature and surprised thousands of us. I, for one, hadn't read such a thirst-quenching story in ages. Paul Fisher became my personal hero. I built a shrine for Tangerine on my bookshelf (yes! no lie!), so dazzled was I by Bloor's thought-provoking tale.
When Crusader fell out of its mailing envelope, I screamed in delight. (I'm not a dork -- bottled up anticipation and longing will do that to anyone.) So in love was I with Edward Bloor's prose that the arrival of Crusader made me weak in the knees -- as if, perhaps, my summertime boyfriend had finally arrived at the resort that our families enjoyed year after year. How had he changed? Would he still love me? What fun would we have together this time around?
So, ummm...maybe you'll understand why I feel hesitant in making broad declarations about what Crusader is or how it reads or if it's as well as Bloor's debut. I'm in shock, I guess. Bloor, my favorite dreamy writer, grew up some since I saw him last, and I'm still figuring out how I feel about his new novel.
While Tangerine explored the idea that a blind kid might actually see more than his sighted friends and family, Crusader tackles the blind spot in the rearview mirror. Fifteen-year-old Roberta is a seasoned journalist, despite her youth. Passively, meticulously, and intelligently recording events at school and at the failing mall where her family owns an arcade, Roberta sees all but feels nothing.
We also learn -- on the very first page -- that she avoids the mirror. "I don't usually look in mirrors because I don't need to. I don't style my hair; I don't use makeup. Most days I couldn't tell you what color clothes I have on. Kristen says that's because I don't have a mother to teach me about such things. Kristin is usually right."
What happened to her mother? Roberta tells everyone that her mother died of a heart attack. We believe her at first because Roberta seems to have everything under control. Soon, though, "truth" unravels into family chaos.
In Crusader, author Bloor and protagonist Roberta sift through layers of reality. They unearth environmental massacres from long ago that matter now; they penetrate political webs and bravely dig out family truths buried long ago. Roberta even learns to look in the mirror. Her journey dazzles.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although the jacket and flap copy play to readers interested in virtual reality, cyber-adventure is only a very small component of this ambitious second novel from the author of the acclaimed Tangerine. Fifteen-year-old Roberta spends her time at a mall, working for her alcoholic Uncle Frank in a virtual reality arcade that features "experiences" for xenophobic violence-mongers: in the war game Crusader, for example, players kill Arab "Infidels." Everything around Roberta is skewed, from the misfits who work at the arcade for no pay (just getting to play the games is enough) to the mall, where the businesses are struggling and the management is corrupt. Home is even stranger. Her mother is dead and her father neglects her, spending all his time with the horrible Suzie, the mall manager. Roberta herself is an oddball, often mistaken for a boy and slow to emerge as a strong character--readers will have to be patient to see her personality take shape. The story is long and packed with subplots, veering from local politics (hate crimes and environmentalism) to teenage suicide, the inner workings of a TV studio and Roberta's quest to uncover the truth about her mother's death. A scheme to expose a dishonest politician is baroque and anticlimactic. Nonetheless, the characters are sharply drawn (racist Hawg is not an entirely bad guy; shallow teen beauty Nina helps out in a pinch), and Roberta is full of surprises. While flawed, this novel is deeper, denser and more complex than most YA fare, and serious readers will appreciate it. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Author of Tangerine (Harcourt Brace, 1997/VOYA August 1997), Bloor has produced another thoughtful work. Roberta is a member of an extended dysfunctional family. She works in her uncle's video arcade in a strip mall populated by a weird assortment of employees, among them football crazy Hawg, who works at the arcade for free games; "Betty the Goth," an intimidating food server; and Mrs. Weiss, a gift shop owner and selfappointed grandmother to Roberta. Fifteenyearold Roberta has found her niche in the video arcade, working by night and pursuing her dream of becoming a journalist in her media studies class by day. Willing to address controversy in her writing but not in her life, Roberta does not agree with some of the arcade's policies, but she enforces them. When Asian Americans approach the "Mekong Massacre" game, an outoforder sign is hastily attached to the machine. Because the arcade houses a variety of possibly offensive "experiences," there are policies for almost every minority group. When a vandal attacks an Arab American's business, however, Roberta is forced to confront some latent conflicts in her life, the foremost being the mystery surrounding her mother's murder several years ago. Is the raciallymotivated vandalism at the mall linked to her mother's death? As in Tangerine, this novel provides a fine character study. Readers follow the introverted Roberta through a series of increasingly dramatic events, hoping that one of them will finally wake up her rage. The cast is populated with characters who appear to be either idealistic or dishonorable but who reveal surprising depth as the novel progresses. There is an engaging mystery to keep the reader occupied through390pages, but the main business is to find out how Roberta will finally deal with the shocking evidence concerning her mother's murder and the benign neglect with which her father treats her. This is by no means a fastpaced read, but those willing to invest some time will find a compelling and eloquent story. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 1999, Harcourt Brace, Ages 13 to 18, 384p, $17. Reviewer: Alison Kastner
Gr 7 Up-Roberta Ritter, 16, works at her journalism studies in her south Florida high school, and works just as hard for nothing at Arcane Experiences, a small arcade run by her father and uncle. Knowing that certain of the virtual-reality games are likely to offend certain customers, the arcade has an unwritten policy-African Americans are told that King Kong is out of order, Asians hear the same apology about the Mekong Massacre, etc. In the newest "experience," customers take the role of a Christian crusader slaying infidels in the Holy Land. When someone vandalizes the store of an Arab-American businessman at the mall, neither the police nor the victim realize that it's mall politics, not prejudice, behind it. Roberta is also having nightmares about her mother, whose murder seven years earlier was never solved. The teen's association with the officer investigating the alleged hate crimes brings her some evidence relating to her mother's killer. All these plot threads and more come together in a satisfying but disturbing ending. Roberta is a strong and sympathetic character who learns to take care of herself, but what she faces along the way may surprise and disturb readers. People die, and some wrongs are never righted. Although it is longer and more complex, Crusader resembles Bloor's Tangerine (Harcourt, 1997). Like that title, it is an honest look at a contemporary world in which all stories do not end happily.-Susan L. Rogers, Chestnut Hill Academy, PA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
Friday, the 18th
I don’t usually look in mirrors because I don’t need to. I don’t style my hair; I don’t use makeup. Most days I couldn’t tell you what color clothes I have on. Kristin says that’s because I don’t have a mother to teach me about such things. Kristin is usually right.
I stood in the bathroom staring at my face, studying it, trying to decide if it looked older, when I heard Hawg’s booming voice. It was coming from the mall parking lot.
I opened the back door to watch Hawg and Ironman for a moment. What a pair they were. Hawg’s burly frame was packed into his red Arkansas T-shirt, the one with the charging pig on it. Ironman was wearing his usual black T-shirt. Either it was two sizes too large or he was two sizes too small. The shirt had a death’s-head, a snake, and the word IRONMAN on it.
Hawg was yelling about his one obsession, football. Whompin’ on ’em, man! We was whompin’ on ’em. Upside their heads and down. No lie. They’d like to have quit at halftime, we whomped ’em up so good.”
I don’t know how much of this football talk Ironman understands. He usually just stands there grinning.
I quietly joined them. Hawg and Ironman seemed hard at work with cans of spray paint, red Glidden spray paint. They had our portable TV stand lying on the ground between them, like a patient on a table. Hawg was leaning backward and squirting at the stand awkwardly, like you’d squirt poison at a big bug. I finally said, What are you guys doing?”
They both turned in surprise, then exhaled in relief that I wasn’t Uncle Frank. Hawg answered, Your uncle told us to paint the Sony stand. He wants her to be red now.”
Damn if I know.” Hawg picked up the stand and flopped it over. Then he held up his hands to show Ironman. They were now streaked bloodred from the paint. I went back inside as Hawg resumed his story, Second half started, brother, and we dogged ’em good. Whomp! Whomp!”
I had no sooner gotten back to the bathroom mirror than I heard the shrill ringing of the bell. I opened the door again and saw the UPS guy standing there in his brown shirt, shorts, and socks. I see this guy at least once a week, but I honestly don’t know if he remembers me from one visit to the next. If he does, he doesn’t let on. He looked down at his clipboard and told me, Two packages. Nine hundred ninety-nine dollars COD.”
I said, I’m sorry. What does that mean?”
He looked up. It means you have to give me a check for that amount, or you don’t get your boxes.”
Really? Is this from Arcane?”
He checked his paperwork and confirmed, ArcaneThe Virtual Reality ArcadeAntioch, Illinois. Two packages. COD. Cash on delivery.”
I stood there dumbly. I finally said, We’ve never had to do that before.”
You would have to take that up with the sender. I either deliver it or I don’t deliver it.”
Just then the door to the arcade opened and Uncle Frank came in. Uncle Frank used to be an army officer. He still has the crew cut and the military bearing. The UPS guy practically snapped to attention. He even said, How are you today, sir?”
I said, He wants a check for nine hundred ninety-nine dollars.”
Uncle Frank sputtered, What?”
The UPS guy repeated his COD story, but this time he told it like he was on our side.
Uncle Frank told him coldly, They’ve been sending packages to me for three years now. Never COD. This is a mistake.”
The UPS guy suggested, Why don’t you call this Arcane company in Illinois?”
Uncle Frank stared hard at the UPS guy, who got very uncomfortable. Suddenly we all swiveled at the sound of the register buzzer. My cousin Karl had pressed it from up front. Uncle Frank looked at me. See what he wants, will you?”
I walked out onto the floor of our family arcade and stood for a moment surveying the hardware. We have twelve different Arcane experiences” set up in our arcade. The less bloody experiences are placed up front; the more violent and weird ones are in back. Each experience costs $4.95 for two minutes of nonstop virtual reality excitement.”
I spotted a Japanese family. They were wandering my way, right toward Mekong Massacre. This was why Karl had hit the buzzer. We don’t let any Asian customers have the Mekong Massacre experience. We don’t let Asians have the Halls of Montezuma experience or the Genghis Khan Rides! experience, either. Uncle Frank calls this our Asian Policy. Some Asians take these games so seriously that they get emotionally upset. Then they want their money back. We’re instructed to tell all Asians that those three games are experiencing technical difficulties.”
I don’t personally believe in the Asian Policy. I don’t see any harm in letting a Japanese customer pretend to kill a Viet Cong guerrilla, or a Korean customer pretend to slice up an invading Chinese Mongol. Then again, I can distinguish between Japanese and Vietnamese, and Korean and Chinese, and so on. Uncle Frank can’t. That’s why we have an Asian Policy.
The family wandered all the way around the arcade in a circle, then left, so I returned to the UPS guy COD scene. Hawg and Ironman were back inside now, listening to Uncle Frank angrily growl, Forget it,” and slam down the phone.
I asked him, It wasn’t a mistake?”
Uncle Frank answered, Apparently not,” and wrote out a check.
The UPS guy tore off a receipt. It looked like he was about to say something else, but Uncle Frank shooed him out the door. Then we all turned and looked, with great interest, at the two cartons that had cost us a thousand bucks. Uncle Frank shook his head in utter disbelief. He turned to Hawg and Ironman, finally acknowledging their presence, and ordered, Wash that paint off your hands before you touch this. It’s worth more than you are.” Then he asked me, What did Karl want?”
I said, Japanese. Looking at Mekong Massacre.”
Did you head them off?”
Uncle Frank thought for a moment. Mekong Massacre’s been marginal for a long time. What kind of numbers does it have?”
About twenty-five customers a week.”
Is that all? Maybe we should get rid of it. I hate to, though.” Uncle Frank pointed at the two new boxes. But we have to make room for this one. He’ll be right up front. And he comes with a promo display.”
Oh, good. What’s he called?”
Crusader.” I walked over to the boxes. Hawg and Ironman, now with clean hands, followed me and began to extract the pieces of the promotional display. Hawg pulled out a jewel-handled metal sword and held it up to admire. Then he unwrapped a gorgeous metal shield with a coat of arms that bore a lion, a snake, and a chalice. Even Uncle Frank was impressed by that and came over to check it out, too. He reached in and unfurled a white linen tunic with a big red cross sewn on the front. He nodded admiringly. Then he said, Come out front, Roberta. I need to talk to you.”
I followed Uncle Frank up to the front register. Uncle Frank and his two childrenmy cousins, Karl and Kristinall work at Arcane. Karl is eighteen, tall, and scary looking. Kristin is seventeen, tall, and gorgeous looking. Uncle Frank asked Karl, Where’s Kristin?”
Karl answered, I think she’s out with Nina.”
Oh? That’s good. That Nina’s a good girl.”
Karl looked over at me, sneakily, and rolled his eyes. I rolled mine back. Nina is not a good girl.
Uncle Frank went behind the counter and pulled a green bank deposit bag from the floor safe. He told me, Roberta, you’re in charge of assembling this new display. I don’t want any mistakes.”
Okay, Uncle Frank.”
It could be the last one we get for a while.”
I returned to the back room and pushed open the door, expecting to see a mess, but the guys seemed to be handling the assembly okay. The Crusader had no real body. He had an open wire frame shaped like an upside-down cone, so large that a person could fit inside it. And that’s where Ironman currently was. He said to Hawg, There’s gotta be a metal bar for the shoulders.”
There ain’t no metal bar, Ironman. I told you that already.”
There’s gotta be.”
There ain’t. Now, don’t make me hurt you, boy.”
I said, It’s probably in this other box.” I opened the second box and saw the CD-ROM to run Crusader, and the legend card that explained the experience. The card said:
God’s champion against medieval evil!
He battles the bloodthirsty infidel
across the scorching sands of Asia Minor,
to reclaim the Holy Land for God.
Copyright © 1999 by Edward Bloor
Reader’s guide copyright © 2007 by Harcourt, Inc.
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