This is a well-written, compelling story of guilt, justice, indentity, forgiveness, coming of age, and coming to terms.
Combining an unusual theme with a well-developed and broad-ranging plot, Murphy has created an insightful and involving story.
School Library Journal
A 15-year-old boy in contemporary Alaska discovers that his mom is a fugitive, hiding out from the FBI because of her part in an anti-Vietnam War protest at Berkeley that accidentally killed a college student. Luke is even more upset to learn that she plans to turn herself in; she has been wracked with guilt for years but, widowed while pregnant with Luke, she felt bound to care for her son. Now that she has remarried and Luke is a teenager, she arranges a plea bargain that will involve a prison sentence. Luke, who has conveniently seen a television segment about victim-offender mediation (wherein criminals and their victims meet and talk for the purpose of achieving emotional closure), feels inspired by his new friendship with Amy, who has been through similar mediation herself. Amy was paralyzed when a drunk driver hit her, but she and her family have forgiven the driver. Luke prompts his mother and her attorney to meet the relatives of the boy whose death she helped cause. Murphy's (Gold Star Sister) research is evident her descriptions of a prison visit, for example, brim with detail. Her storytelling, however, relies frequently on coincidence (e.g., Amy moves to northern California shortly before Luke and his mother go there for her court appearance) and contrivance (Luke speculates, hollowly, on parallels between a raucous game of paintball and military combat). Earnest but ultimately artificial. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Gr 7-10-Combining an unusual theme with a well-developed and broad-ranging plot, Murphy has created an insightful and involving story. In the summer between eighth and ninth grades, Luke McHenry is ready to put all of his energy into playing the best baseball he can and making the All-Star team in Fairbanks, AK. Then his mother drops a bombshell into their quiet life with his stepfather Sid: 31 years earlier, she took part in a violent protest against the Vietnam War and a student was accidentally killed. Living as a fugitive has taken such a toll that she has decided to turn herself in. Murphy places the woman's surrender at the center, rather than the climax of the novel, thereby forcing the narrator to come to terms not only with his mother's past, but also with the manner in which that past is about to irrevocably alter his present and future. Murphy delivers an exceptional supporting character in Amy, a wheelchair-bound student who works at the store Luke's mother co-owns. At her suggestion, he presses for a session of "restorative justice," in which both the victim's family and the perpetrator face one another and express how they feel about the tragedy that links them from opposite sides. Free Radical is both engrossing and believable and might be paired with Ben Mikaelsen's equally marvelous Touching Spirit Bear (HarperCollins, 2001) for an in-depth unit on how crimes, even inadvertent ones, have consequences far beyond what the "criminal" might expect and how an open-minded justice system can allow for restitution and healing, beyond the mere imposition of penalties.-Coop Renner, Moreno Elementary School, El Paso, TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"Alaska is a great place to hide," and Luke McHenry's mother has been hiding there for 31 years. She has hidden her own identity, she has hidden the facts of Luke's identity, and she has hidden from the consequences of one reckless act so many years before. But as Faith McHenry says, "By hiding all these years, I avoided one prison and created another." Never able to hide from the guilt she feels for a death she caused during an anti-war protest in 1970, Faith, really Mary Margaret Cunningham, goes back to California to turn herself in and face the jail time she knows she deserves. It is not a surprise who Faith McHenry really is, and that is not the point. This is a well-written, compelling story of guilt, justice, identity, forgiveness, coming of age, and coming to terms. The author does an excellent job of peeling back the layers of consequences and the need for forgiveness that one reckless act carries in its wake. Secondary characters are drawn well, and Luke's voice rings true. The whole novel is a play on the term "free radical," defined as "cell-destroying oxidizers" that eat away at our bodies and drag us down, akin to Mary Margaret's guilt. The novel closes with a brilliant metaphor for how Luke manages his crisis of identity. He realizes he is like the sandhill cranes flying overhead in a V formation, the leaders switching position from time to time. "Once when I was little, Mom had told me, ‘That's how they survive. They take turns flying into the wind.' " Luke sees that it's his turn now to fly into the wind, and he is doing it with the help of friends and family. An excellent angle on the Vietnam War and its legacy. (Fiction. 11-15)