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The Kids Are All Right

Five local authors write about running away, psychiatric institutes, homes for unwed mothers, the search for self and other hazards of growing up.



By way of introduction to his short-story collection, “Three Buck Naked Commodes and 18 More Tales From a Small Town” (Publish America, $24.95), Doswell resident Dale Brumfield likens his memory to that of the men of the Franklin Expedition of 1845, who went insane from eating lead-poisoned meat. Equal parts nostalgic, sentimental and absurd, Brumfield weaves together tales from his boyhood in the Shenandoah Valley from 1968 to 1979, rendering the life of an already awkward boy in corrective shoes forced to attend Girl Scouts. Amidst a host of scatological non sequiturs, Creepy the undertaker, Darleen the cafeteria worker and other memorable characters shape Brumfield's life experiences.

If only the precocious teenager Denny Gunderson — of “The Emancipation of Denny G.” (Keldan Publishing, $14.95) by Carole M. Olsen — could have been buddies with Juno. It's 1965, her parents are dead and Denny is desperate for a popular boyfriend to help her fit in. Instead of solving her problems, going steady with a jock lands her in a home for unwed mothers. Olsen guides us, with a careful eye to the bizarre workings of sexism in the barbed language of “slut” and “tramp,” through shame and self-respect in this coming-of-age tale.

Edward G. Kardos, director of development at Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Dentistry, puts Eastern thought to Western narrative in more than a dozen short stories in the collection, “Zen Master Next Door: Parables for Enlightened Everyday Living” (Humanics Publishing Group, $29.95). Kurt and Jenny become everything they once despised in an upper-crust housing community. To rediscover themselves, they decide to paint their house purple. Judd is so self-absorbed he doesn't appreciate the teachings of his neighbor until he's already packed up and left. Each story concludes with a moral, if it's too difficult to draw your own.

Smoking, huffing, fighting, racism, first kisses, sex, death and classic literature come together in Chris Carlton Brown's first young-adult novel, “Hoppergrass” (Henry Holt, $17.99). Through clean, striking prose peppered with lingo, dialect and nuance, Brown introduces us to Bowser and Nose, who live in an institution for delinquent teenage boys. Brown, who once worked at a psychiatric center for teens himself, unabashedly delves into the center of subjects that some people avoid completely.

Chris Carlton Brown signs “Hoppergrass” on June 20 at 1 and 3 p.m. at the Barnes and Noble at Chesterfield Towne Center.

The best young-adult literature blurs the lines of its genre, refuses to dumb itself down and is as good as the best stuff written for adults. Gigi Amateau, author of the renowned “Claiming Georgia Tate” and the new novel, “A Certain Strain of Peculiar” (Candlewick Press, $16.99), is particularly masterful at sidestepping clichAcs and offering instead a truly original, spirited portrait of being 13 in the South. With a good dose of rejection, rebelliousness, urinary tract infections, bitchy friends and friends who act like horses, the most peculiar parts of this novel make it the most likable.

Gigi Amateau speaks at the Writing Show on “Where the Wild Things Are: The Irrational World of Children's Literature” at the Children's Museum of Richmond on May 28 at 6:30 p.m. She appears at the Barnes and Noble at Brandermill on May 30, 2-4 p.m. and again at Narnia Children's Books on June 13, noon-2 p.m.


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