4.6 26
by Laura McNeal, Tom McNeal

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Winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Children's Literature
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
Winner of the 2004 Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List

When fifteen-year-old Mick Nichols discovers a secret about his stepmother, he comes obsessed with uncovering the truth. But before he can get to the bottom of it, Mick is confronted

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Winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Children's Literature
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
Winner of the 2004 Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List

When fifteen-year-old Mick Nichols discovers a secret about his stepmother, he comes obsessed with uncovering the truth. But before he can get to the bottom of it, Mick is confronted by a series of strange robberies and a close friend with a dark secret of her own. As he seeks out answers, Mick realizes that all of his problems are zipped up together—and he may have to go to drastic lengths to untangle them.

“The McNeals spin a wonderfully rich story.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A well-honed novel. . . . Readers will be sucked in.”—Publishers Weekly

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This novel's narrative alternates between three teens, each of whom face their own trials. According to PW, "The authors skillfully weave together several story lines into a well-honed novel." Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2003: The McNeal husband-and-wife writing team won a lot of praise for their first YA novel, Crooked. Each is an accomplished writer, and Laura has also taught English in middle school and high school in addition to being a journalist. This background is evident in Zipped, with frequent allusions to literary works that typical high school students would recognize, with a challenging plot and theme, and with well-developed characters who are articulate and thoughtful. The narrative is in the third person, and the point of view shifts among several characters—Mick, Lisa, Maurice, and Janice, with many chapters. Details of plot, numerous characters, thoughts and feelings are zipped together to make one cohesive story, and it seems clear that the authors are making that classic point that everything is connected—everything is zipped together. We may not see how at first, or in the middle of the story; but in the end the connection is clear. The story line is difficult to summarize concisely, but here are several main elements to the story: Mick has discovered that his adored and attractive stepmother is having an affair and his home life and emotional security are threatened; Mick has a crush on a classmate, Lisa, but also has a friendship with a most attractive college student who is trying to escape from her own demons; Lisa is a Mormon who is attracted to a young Mormon missionary living in the area, but her friendship with Mick is growing and developing into something more romantic; Mick and Lisa work for a disturbed person, Maurice, who is having a love affair with Lisa's best friend Janice. Themes of goodand evil and the gray zone in between, of betrayal, of forgiveness, of love, of tolerance, abound. The McNeals have given YA readers a challenging YA novel, with a strange little figure of a baby devil on the cover. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Random House, Knopf, 283p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
As summer vacation nears, leather-jacket clad Mick faces challenges and opportunities. He applies for a grounds-crew position at a retirement community, the girl he has been admiring from afar is hired on the same crew, and his history paper revision disappears somewhere in the computer-fairly typical events in the life of a bike-bound fifteen-year-old. In many ways, however, Mick's life is anything but typical. Years ago his mother all but abandoned her family for a high-paced job in a distant city, his mechanic father remarried a woman Mick drools over, and Mick discovers trashed e-mail correspondence between his stepmother and her lover as he searches for that missing history paper-too much revelation. How Mick handles the infidelity-taken extremely personally-drives the novel. Numerous subplots enhance the novel, including a crime wave at the retirement community, budding romances, grounds-crew supervisor Maurice's power trips (he speaks of himself in second person and deserves a novel of his own), a developing friendship between Mick and an older beauty queen, and some strong characterizations. Unnecessary or underdeveloped subplots, such as sexual harassment on several fronts and a crush on a Mormon elder, detract. The McNeals' subject matter itself is engaging and sexually charged-multiple, overt references to hickeys, crotches, nipples, underwear, and more ring out as overplayed and heavy-handed. Morally ambiguous characters and Mick's haunting dilemma provide intrigue. Readers who flock to Chris Crutcher's books and those interested in Mormon characters and themes will be drawn to this book. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P M J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal;Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Knopf, 192p,
— Patti Sylvester Spencer <%ISBN%>0375814914
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Well-realized, sympathetic teen and adult characters populate this novel packed with family problems, romance, and wry humor. Fifteen-year-old Mick Nichols opens his stepmother's e-mail by mistake and discovers that Nora is having an affair. Unable to confront her or tell his father, he turns surly and uncommunicative at home. Meanwhile, he's embarked on a confusing friendship with a college girl and a budding romance with a high school classmate, the beautiful Lisa Doyle. Mick has a troubled relationship with his mother, who left the family years ago, and has always admired-as well as had a mild crush on-his young, attractive stepmother. Her affair shatters his illusions. While he searches for clues to the identity of Nora's lover, he also gets to know Lisa better on their weekend job. Obstacles stand in the way of love, including her interest in an off-limits Mormon missionary. Mick commits an uncharacteristic act of vandalism aimed at his stepmother's lover, and ultimately has an emotionally satisfying confrontation with Nora. The teen's romance with Lisa finally takes off, and several other subplots wrap up as well, sometimes too neatly. Mick learns that the adults whom he has idolized have their own problems, and that relationships are far more complex than he ever imagined. Refreshingly, Mick's father and stepmother are fully fleshed out characters, not stereotypes. This is a believable novel that will especially appeal to teens interested in moral ethics and human dynamics.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Mick Nichols has women problems. His mother, who left his father and lives far away, can't seem to remember his age. Lisa Doyle, the cute field hockey player, seems not to notice him, and Myra Vidal, college sophomore and former beauty queen, is paying him all kinds of attention. But far, far worse-his attractive stepmother, whom he adores, is carrying on a torrid affair. Every one of the women here has a problematic love life. Lisa, for example, likes Mick, but loves Elder Keesler, an older boy and a missionary in her church, Lisa's friend Janice is going out with a muscle-bound slime ball. Mick acts as a sort of bell-weather for all of them as the plot unfolds. Eventually, everything falls into place: Lisa gets over her fixation on the missionary, Myra comes out to Mick, and Mick and his step-mother are reconciled as Mick learns that life can be very complicated and that even good people make big mistakes. The McNeals (Crooked, 1999) spin a wonderfully rich story. It is a little bothersome that only Mick and his father seem to lead straightforward lives unmarred by moral uncertainty, (apart from Mick's impulsive act of vandalism meant to punish his stepmother's paramour) while the various females in the story are tortured by a variety of conflicted feelings and bad choices. The authors steer clear of moralizing, however, and wrap everything up in a most satisfying way. (Fiction. 13+)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.63(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Baked in a Pie

It wasn't a normal Thursday, but all day long it had seemed like one, so when the final bell rang, Mick Nichols did what he normally did. He walked from Jemison High to Melville Junior High by way of the athletic fields, fast-walking at first, but then, as he neared the muddy grass where the girls' field hockey team was collecting for spring practice, he settled into something closer to a purposeful stroll.

He hoped he wasn't too early, and he wasn't. Lisa Doyle was there—he caught a flash of her coppery red hair through the shifting shoulders and sticks, and suddenly everywhere and all at once a strange prickling sensation began spreading across his skin. She bent down to pick up her stick, and when she happened to flick a glance in his general direction, Mick's face went wooden. He kept his eyes directly forward and walked stiffly on without another look her way. Beneath his old bomber jacket, beneath his khaki T-shirt, a cool bead of sweat coursed down his rib cage. Dink, he thought as he reached the chain-link fence that marked the boundary of the high school. Dink dink dink.

Melville Junior High was located just across the street to the east of Jemison High, so by this time of day Jemison's shadow already reached across Melville's front lawn. Mick cut through Melville's parking lot and wandered down to the art room, where his stepmother, Nora Mercer-Nichols, was cleaning up after a day of what she liked jokingly to call "teaching art to the artless." She was stuffing dirty wool into black Hefty bags. When she saw Mick she pushed her sandy blond hair up with the back of her hand and said, "Hello, Maestro!" Then, "Hi, Mick."

Nora Mercer-Nichols was in her early thirties, but she seemed younger. She'd married Mick's father four years before. The first time Mick had met her, she and his father had come in quietly behind him when he was playing the piano in the living room. He'd thought he was alone, and when he finally got through one of Bach's Inventions without a flub, he leaned back on the piano bench and exultantly shot a fist into the air, which drew sudden laughter from Nora and his father. Mick had swung around, surprised and embarrassed. When his father introduced her, he said, "Nora, this is my son, Mick," and she'd smiled and said, "Well, I think I'm going to have to call him Maestro," which she still did. Mick had heard a lot of Bad Stepmother stories, but he liked Nora. He never thought of her as his mother or even his stepmother. She was just Nora, and almost any room was more interesting if she were in it.

Today, standing just inside her classroom door, next to a cabinet lined with bird's nests in clear Plexiglas boxes, Mick read for probably the hundredth time the English and Latin labels he'd helped Nora make one night last fall: black-capped chickadee (Parus atricapillus). house sparrow (Passer domesticus). chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina). A few of the nests held faintly tinted eggs, some freckled, some not. Nora had been asked about the eggs so often that she'd made a small sign that said don't worry, you bird lovers you, I only collect abandoned nests.

Mick found himself staring at some faintly freckled eggs, which made him think of Nora's shoulders in summer, a thought he tried to shake off.

"So," Nora said. "Gimme the daily Doyle report."

Mick shrugged. "Brief visual contact."

"Really? Well, did you smile back?"

"Not exactly."

They both fell silent. About three weeks ago, while driving home with Nora, Mick had told her in a matter-of-fact voice about "this kind of weird effect" that the sight of Lisa Doyle had on him. A laugh had burst from Nora. " 'The heart is the tyrant who spares no one,' " she recited.

"Who said that?"

Nora grinned and nodded toward a small, red ceramic devil that she'd recently set on her dashboard. "Probably little Beezlebub," she said. "Either that or some dead white guy."

Mick didn't know why she called the figurine Beezlebub. All he knew was, he didn't like the little guy. At first it just seemed like a toddler in a devil sleeper, but it always seemed to be peering at you with its black, curious eyes.

"Where'd you get that thing anyway?" he said.

"School," Nora said. "On desktop treasure trading day."

Mick stared at it for a second or two. "It's kind of grimy."

Nora chuckled. "The word I'd use is 'puckish.' " Then, after a block or two had passed, "Weren't we on the subject of one Lisa Doyle? What do you and Lisa talk about?"

"That's kind of the problem," Mick said, and felt his face color slightly. "I haven't actually ever talked to Lisa Doyle."

Nora shot him a look of surprise and then became serious. "Okay, Maestro. Here's the deal. You've been smitten. It may be a foolish infatuation or it may be the real thing. What you have to do is get to know her, and vice versa, which means something more extreme than hockey field walk-bys. You need proximity. If she's on the debate team, join the debate team. If she plays tennis, buy yourself a racket." They were at a stoplight and Nora had fixed Mick with her winsome smile. "If she plays pinochle, take up pinochle."

"I hear she's Mormon," Mick said.

Nora had laughed. "Then say your prayers, and make sure they're good ones," she had said.

The wool they were bagging this afternoon was surprisingly dirty, snagged with twigs and seeds and even clusters of what looked to Mick like sheep dung. He broke a silence by saying, "This stuff's pretty disgusting. What's it for anyway?"

"A new enrichment class." Nora pointed at the near bulletin board, where in large letters it said wool: from sheep to sweater. She laughed again. "You'll be happy to know it's open to students of both genders. The early colonists taught all their children to spin, including boys."

Mick said, "So this class would be a serious opportunity for any guy who might want to be a colonist when he grows up." He hoped this would be good for a chuckle from Nora, and it was. Then he said, "Well, maybe Dad or me'll get a sweater out of it." This was a joke. Although Nora had been working on something that was supposed to be a sweater, she wouldn't say who it was for or what it was supposed to look like, and more often than not she seemed to be unraveling it to correct a mistake.

"Ha," said Nora. "That'll depend on who does the supper dishes."

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