Sneaking into the majestic house on Park Row last night and unlocking the door for the well-dressed stranger had been exciting. Still, Roger knows that what he did for Circus was wrong, especially when he learns from the newspaper that one of the inhabitants was killed. But the fifty dollars he earned is a fortune! His mother never seems to have any change left over for dinner after she buys her daily supply of liquor. And his father is in the hospital, recovering from a gunshot wound. With fifty dollars Roger ...
Sneaking into the majestic house on Park Row last night and unlocking the door for the well-dressed stranger had been exciting. Still, Roger knows that what he did for Circus was wrong, especially when he learns from the newspaper that one of the inhabitants was killed. But the fifty dollars he earned is a fortune! His mother never seems to have any change left over for dinner after she buys her daily supply of liquor. And his father is in the hospital, recovering from a gunshot wound. With fifty dollars Roger can buy those yellow trousers he's been admiring and a decent dress for Lulu, his younger sister. Now Circus is asking him to pull another job. In spite of the temptation of easy money, Roger vows he won't listen to that fast-talking redhead. Too many unanswered questions buzz through Roger's mind. Who shot his father? Why does Circus take such an interest in his father's health? Why does his father ask questions about a redheaded man? And what is Circus' connection to his father? My Crooked Family is both a gripping mystery and a powerful coming-of-age novel about a fourteen-year-old's decision to enter a world of professional crime.
Living with irresponsible parents in a seedy part of a big city in 1910, thirteen-year-old Roger falls in with a gang of murderous burglars and discovers an unpleasant secret about his father.
Although 14-year-old Roger Hardy's life of crime starts small (he heists a bucket of fried rice), the boy has played a key role in two major robberies by the time this novel is over. Collier ( The Winchesters ; Outside Looking In ) does an excellent job in portraying the poverty, hunger and abuse that drive Roger to illicit activity, and his novel--set in an unnamed city in the '20s--is suffused with a flawless sense of place. However, he fails to transform Roger's fall into anything more than a tale of unrelenting victimization. Although the book has all the trappings of a classic coming-of-age story, Roger never achieves a satisfactory degree of self-awareness. When asked how he got mixed up in so much trouble, all he can say is, ``I don't know. It just worked out this way,'' rendering the story far more depressing than illuminating. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-- Set in 1919 in a big city district with whores, hoodlums, and saloons, this coming-of-age novel duplicates the pattern of several of Collier's other books. A bright young boy with a conscience has to overcome his no-account father and weak mother to try and take care of his sister and make a life for himself. Roger Hardy steals his dinner, is caught, and taken to the police station. There he meets Circus Penrose, who is at the station because he was accused of having shot a man who turns out to be Roger's father, who is in cahoots with Penrose and his boss, Russell Qualey. To escape the grinding poverty, Roger also gets involved with these two crime figures. Trapped by the knowledge others have of his actions, he resigns himself to his inevitable fate. The adults are shadowy, undeveloped figures; even the father is just a mean-spirited man who doesn't quite connect to the plot. The mood is grim, an accurate portrayal of poverty, but the mores of the era and a sense of life in a turn-of-the-century city never develop. However, the striking similarity to Collier's Give Dad My Best (Scholastic, 1982; o.p.) , Outside Looking In (Macmillan, 1987) , and When the Stars Begin to Fall (Delacorte, 1986) is the most disappointing part of this novel, as those titles all have stronger plot elements and story lines. For an excellent picture of this era, try Words By Heart (Joy St/Little, 1979) by Ouida Sebestyen. --Kathryn Havris, Mesa Pub . Lib . , AZ
James Lincoln Collier has written many books for children, including Give Dad My Best and Planet Out of the Past. Mr. Collier has also contributed more than five hundred articles to the New York Times Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and Boy’s Life.