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Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds by April Lurie

Katie Haegele
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Like any solid young adult novel, this one chronicles a young character's route to self-realization.

Brothers, Boyfriends & Other Criminal Minds

Publisher: Delacorte
ISBN: 0385731248
Author: April Lurie
Price: $15.99
Length: 304
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-06

For the most part, 14-year-old April Lundquist has the ordinary life of any neighborhood kid. Her bike takes her everywhere, her older brother and his friends tease her relentlessly, and her mom makes her drag her 5-year-old brother wherever she goes.

Set in the '70s -- weird at the time, sweet in retrospect -- the novel definitely has an innocence to it.

But it's also set in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, where some of the most notorious New York crime families are rumored to live. When April's parents considered moving there from another part of Brooklyn, the alleged Mafia presence gave them pause. But their new neighborhood means having a house instead of an apartment and, thanks to the scary guys in expensive suits, there's not much petty crime.

Author Lurie, who writes in an afterword that she was a teenager in the mid-to-late '70s, lets the tokens of the era blend in nicely with April's life. Dominick, the long-haired boy April loves, likes to sit on a rusty folding chair in front of his building and play songs from Quadrophenia on his guitar. Also, someone spray-painted "disco sucks" on a wall at the park.

April couldn't agree more. She loves the Dead and Zeppelin and scoffs at Spandex and platforms. She doesn't even mind that Larry, the kid across the street, uses trash cans for a drum set, since he usually blasts The Who by Numbers at the same time.

Given all this normalcy, it's a deliciously scary surprise when April and Brandi, her best friend, get involved with the mob. Sort of, anyway. April tells us in the book's very first sentence that "three murderers live on my block," but of course no one knows if they're really murderers. Their official line is that the Mafia doesn't even exist.

In any event, one of the local tough guys -- Salvatore "Soft Sal" Luciano -- happens to be her friend Larry's dad. Larry has always been different, a bit behind other guys his age, and Mr. Luciano wants April and Brandi to look after him. They're happy to do it, but when hundred-dollar bills start appearing in their textbooks, they can't help but feel a little queasy.

While April is getting on the mobsters' good side, her older brother Matt is flirting with their bad side. He's fallen for Bettina Boccelli, daughter of a notorious crime boss who doesn't want her dating anyone outside of the fold. Suddenly, two-thirds of the Lundquist siblings are involved with the mob.

Improbable, but Lurie manages to make it believable, though the story is realistic about the dangers of getting in over your head.

I like the small surprises that make this book feel real. In other young adult novels the female protagonist might feel freakish because she wears all black. April sticks out because she's a Nordic natural blonde. But her tall-and-blondness doesn't mean she's sunny and simple. In fact, April is a little, well, twisted. The proof is the books she's always carrying around: Heart of Darkness, Brave New World. One night she overhears her parents having a worried conversation about her behavior, and she finally realizes it: "I was the oddball, the enigma, the embarrassing question mark in our family."

April is in touch with her dark side, but she's upbeat and athletic too, and never hesitates to cream the guys in her neighborhood at tennis. She has a matter-of-fact feminism that made me smile, an ability to stand up for herself that feels fresh, easy, youthful, and empowering.

Like any solid young adult novel, this one chronicles a young character's route to self-realization. It's the story's trappings -- Fat Albert, Welcome Back, Kotter, and Pink Floyd, not to mention pinstripe suits and little cups of espresso -- that make her experiences so charming.


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