Young Adults

THE BEETLE AND ME by Karen Romano Young Greenwillow Books 181 pp., $15 Grades 6-9

On the last day of school, "summer stretches out like a road, empty and sunlit and ending invisibly among the trees." Daisy Pandolfi knows exactly how she wants to travel those three months: "I want a car," the 15-year-old proclaims.

She's in the right family. All the Pandolfis are obsessed with cars - driving, racing, showing, trading, and especially fixing them.

With "The Beetle and Me," Karen Romano Young has written a wise and charming novel about a girl traveling along the cusp of adulthood. Daisy, the gawky narrator of this modern-day "Love Bug," is still young enough to play on the backyard tire-swing, but old enough to convince her father she can repair his decrepit 1957 VW Beetle.

As the summer wears on, Daisy's rusty project consumes her and worries her father, who stands ready and able to help. While she slowly finds the humility to ask for assistance, he must develop the patience to let her succeed - or fail - on her own.

Outside the shop, life is no simpler. In the shadow of her gorgeous cousin, Daisy is unsettled by her romantic feelings for an older boy. There's no road map to help her learn the responsibilities of friendship, dating, driving, and drinking, but the bumpy path she chooses ultimately turns out all right.

The author holds a steady course along the white line between childhood and adulthood. And she's done a wonderful job of dodging the potholes of gender stereotypes, without turning her narrator into a politically correct clich.

Young is a master mechanic with the machinery of this engaging story about a girl who starts off loving a car, but learns to love others - and herself.

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