Gr 6-10Toby Chase's life has been a series of different schools and towns. He and his mother never have a phone or credit cards, and she constantly changes her hair color, job, and their last name. Now a teenager, Toby is resentful of her refusal to respond to his questions and he begins pressing her for answers. It is while working on a research paper for his new school in rural Idaho, however, that he finally uncovers the truth, via the Internet, that his mother is wanted by the FBI for her radical activities as a college student during the Vietnam War era. This time, when she must move on, Toby refuses to go, and he is left in the care of his mother's employer and would-be sweetheart, Sam Wilder. In the end, she turns herself in. When her lawyer discovers that her group was framed by a secret government agency, the story has a happy ending and Toby gets a bright beginning. All of the characters are well developed, but Toby is especially real and likable, which makes his habit of stealing rather disconcerting, and his longing for "people" and a past heartbreaking. Plot points are passed on through unobtrusive inner musings, and the pacing will keep readers moving along. Ryan does a great job of alternating the tension of life on the run with the precious patches of normalcy and calm that Sam brings to Toby's life. She doesn't do anything clever with images or language, but she competently tells a story that puts a personal face on events that have cropped up in the news over the past few years.Patricia A. Dollisch, DeKalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA
"I keep thinking I'll get used to the changes," Toby says stoically. "Different towns; different Mom; different everything."
But it's not easy. For as long as he can remember, "home" has been the car his mom is driving to yet another city and yet another "new" life that she's promised they'll find there. But it always turns out the same old way: Just as he's getting the hang of multiplication tables at a new school, it's time to pull up stakes and move on again...without even saying goodbye.
"When you don't say 'good-bye,'" Toby muses, "it's like you were never there. Like you didn't exist."
Now that he's 15, he's beginning to wonder if that might not be the point. "I'm just restless," his mom, Annie, protests. But does that explain why she changes their names as often as she changes the color and style of her hair? And does that explain why they have never had a telephone or a bank account? Or why his mom pays for everything with cash instead of a credit card? Or -- most important -- why, whenever a mysterious, chain-smoking man named Fred Hayes shows up, they have to move again? No wonder Toby thinks of
him as Bad News Fred.
But now the news seems to be good -- for a change. Toby and his mom have settled down in a small town in remote northern Idaho. Annie has found a job she loves at a plant nursery owned by Sam, a kind man who seems to be falling in love with her. Toby has started back to school and has made friends with Sunny, whose parents are Vietnamese refugees. For once it appears that Annie's promise that this town is going to be "better than any place we've ever lived" is going to turn out to be the truth.
But then, while working on a history project with Sunny, Toby finds an old newspaper article that suggests that the answers may be more life-threatening by far than any of the questions he's ever dreamed of asking. And when it
seems that things couldn't possibly get any worse, Bad News Fred shows up again, but now, perhaps, for the last time....
The author of three previous novels, Mary Elizabeth Ryan has written a fast-paced story of suspense that also explores, in very personal terms, the meaning of the past. Is it, as Toby wearily asserts, something to let go of -- "like a garbage chute"? Or is it history, as his teacher, a Vietnam War veteran, maintains? "We're all part of it, and it's a part of us," he says. We care about the answers because we care about the characters that Ryan has created. Annie and Toby are sympathetic, bright, and funny, and their mother-son relationship is an authentic mix of warmth and the kind of distance that too many secrets about the past impose.
Alias, is a fine novel that, once read, will linger in its readers' own remembered pasts.
bn.com, Michael Cart
A tedious tale of a teenager who finds out that his 40-something mother has been a fugitive since the era of the Vietnam War.
After nearly 15 years of abrupt moves, name changes, no telephones, and cash-only transactions, Toby has never cracked his mother's reticence about her past, nor tried very hard to find out about his father. Suddenly, clues begin falling into his lap: an old photo in the house of a suspiciously new "old friend," a sheaf of not-very-well-hidden birth certificates and driver's licenses, an Internet news story about a 1970 raid on a student group supposedly plotting a bombing, found by chance while Toby researches a school report. When Toby sees his mother's face on a poster at the local sheriff's, he knows that the stakes are about to be pulled up againbut this time he opts to stay behind as she takes off for the Canadian border. Depending heavily on chance discoveries and her protagonist's strangely mild curiosity, Ryan creates neither suspense nor credibility, leaving readers to wonder how, even with the aid of a national underground network, Toby's mother fooled both her son and the authorities for so long. This sketchy mise-en-scène, plus a cut-and-dried endingToby's mother reappears as he's telling his class how proud he is of her, turns herself in, and then learns that her protest group had been set up by government agentswastes characters who often display some surprising depths.