Growing Up; Growing Up, Again; Brothers 

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Growing Up

The opening sentence of Brady Udall's first novel, "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint," (W.W. Norton, $24.95) marks the beginning of a captivating story of a native American boy: "If I could tell you one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head." It is Edgar's miraculous recovery from this bizarre accident that leaves him with the inescapable desire to find the mailman and tell him that he survived. Udall's novel traces Edgar's quest, both heartbreaking and hilarious, from a recovery-ward hospital room, to a boarding school for wayward children, to a Mormon household and finally, to the place he at long last can call home.

Edgar's voyage shows the sadness and wonder of the world. Udall is able to vividly capture Edgar's development as he slowly begins to discover who he is, as well as who he will become. Udall's talent shines most brightly in his rich descriptions; transforming his words and sentences into a kaleidoscope of mental images the reader will retain long after they finish the novel. When Edgar discovers Cecil, his best friend in boarding school, has died, his grief colors everything around him including the stolen lollipops Edgar intended to give him: "The highway hummed, the world grew dark around us and one by one I ate them all, gnashed them into a thick crunching syrup … their sticks littering the floor under my feet like tiny bones, their gritty sweetness a poison on my tongue." Udall's capability to describe events with such three-dimensional force identifies him as one of the newest, and most talented, writers of the American canon. — Francis W. Decker

Growing Up, Again

The coming-of-age story moves well only when the subject has logical issues about his or her own self-identity. The protagonist, Thai, in newcomer Kenji Jasper's novel "Dark" (Broadway Books, $12.95) becomes very detached from himself. Thai, whose dead mother named him after the food she enjoyed, grows up with the daily nightmare of gun shots and crime. Thai doesn't think of himself as a thug, though. He's got a job in the D.C. Department of Public Works and a great shot at going to college. But after he runs into the same guy he caught sleeping with his girlfriend, Thai finds himself with a gun in his hand. He winds up in Charlotte, N.C., as a killer, a foreigner trying to adapt to the ways of the South and, most of all, as a man struggling to find his a self-image. Jasper does an excellent job of changing the world Thai knows and the problems he faces are one's that make you feel for Thai, even though in some instances you'd rather not.— Jacob Parcell


Moody and Muir Powell are as different as they come. Muir, a soft-spoken, hard-working mama's boy, is forever searching for his life's purpose. His older brother, Moody, runs moonshine, seems to have no ambition other than to get drunk and harbors a violent temper. The relationship — and rivalry — between the two brothers lies at the heart of "This Rock" (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $24.95), by Robert Morgan.

Divided into three parts, the novel alternates between Muir, Moody and their widowed mother, Ginny, whose words lend perspective to the relationship between the brothers. Ginny is also the key to unlocking the personalities of the two boys; it is because of her faith and hope in Muir that he is seeking a purpose to his life. And it is because of Ginny's mistrust and lack of expectation in Moody that he is content to slide on by.

Morgan's previous novel "Gap Creek" was a huge success after being chosen for Oprah's Book Club, and there's no reason "This Rock" shouldn't win just as many readers. Not only is "This Rock" a heartbreaking coming-of-age tale, but Morgan is a gifted author with a special talent for using descriptive language. His simple but effective metaphors and vivid descriptions transport readers directly to the wild and forgotten mountains of North Carolina and to the secret, hopeful places in a young man's heart. — Jessica Ronky Haddad


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