Saturday, May 5, 2012

The New York Times reviews Celine by Brock Cole

Published: April 15, 1990
By Brock Cole.
216 pp. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
$13.95. (Ages 12 and up)
Here's a rare pleasure: Brock Cole's ''Celine'' is a novel that doesn't set out deliberately to instruct, uplift, comfort, amuse or expand the horizons of those readers known, perhaps condescendingly, as ''young adults.'' Yet it manages to accomplish all this and much more simply by telling a fine story about an unforgettable character.
Celine Morienval is a 16-year-old artist living in a Chicago loft with her 22-year-old stepmother, Catherine. Her own mother lives on a yacht in Antigua. And her father, in the blithe, masculine hope that his new wife and his daughter will grow to love each other, has gone off on an extended lecture tour of Europe, leaving Celine with an injunction to ''show a little maturity.''
''Really,'' Celine says, ''it's hard not to be offended. If I was any more mature, I'd have Alzheimer's disease.''
We get her point. From the start, she finds herself both player and observer in all sorts of dramas and intrigues. As such, she provides not only a sort of wacky foil to the goings-on around her but also a straight eye and a clear voice in the face of a whole gamut of contemporary issues, problems and shibboleths.

There's Jake Barker, for instance, her neighbor's child, who, despite his mother's claim that there isn't anyone she'd rather spend time with, winds up on Celine's hands for most of the novel. Jake's parents are splitting up. He visits a counselor once a week. ''I've never actually been to a psychologist myself,'' Celine muses, ''but I've heard it all somewhere or another. All about how much his parents both love him, and how they weren't separating from him but just from each other. They would always love him and the important thing is that it isn't his fault. . . . But that isn't the way it is at all. His parents don't like their lives anymore, and they're willing to chop the kid up a bit to change things. That's the truth, isn't it? If they really loved him so much, they wouldn't get a divorce.''
At school, Celine is trying to graduate a year early. One can't blame her; she clearly doesn't fit in. But she has to pass swimming first, and she has a phobia about water. And there's a paper on Holden Caulfield to rewrite, with Jake landed on her for the weekend. Then there's Catherine, from Paterson, N.J., who talks in an English accent and goes on about Derr-i-da, watching Celine hopefully for signs of deconstruction. No such luck.

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