Critiques

Review Excerpts:

Kliatt, May, 2000:
This is an unusual love story that has as its main theme religious differences. It is a hearfelt tale, from a male point of view, which strikes me as having at least some autobiographical connections . . .
There is a lot of sexual attraction between the lovers and the ways they seek fulfillment and connection without sexual intercourse are described explicitly. I'm sure younger YAs could handle this detail, but their parents and teachers might freak out if this book was in a junior high library . . .
Unlike so many YA novels that explore love relationships superficially, this one portrays a deep, intimate adolescent love full of passion and expression and hope for the future. Cherlyn's intelligence, her ability to find words to express her spiritual experiences and deep religious convictions, transforms this into something quite remarkable. In like fashion, Cosmos's creative expression through song, and his growing love and respect for Cherlyn, make him a memorable character in YA fiction. Although overwhelmed by his sexual attraction to her, he honors her moral code, even if it is not something he shares.
There is a great deal in this fine contemporary story, and I am glad Heynen has written it for adolescents. I would hope that young people who come from religious traditions like the one Cosmos finds in Iowa would be encouraged to read this portrait of their way of life-- a complex, true account. Heynen neither condemns nor embraces this life, but expresses the full dimensions of it.
Claire Rosser

Voya:
Heynen eschews the obvious caricatures of bad hoodlum/pure virgin attraction. Cherlyn is a likeable, straightforward, healthily physical adolescent whose strong budding feelings are in conflict with her religious beliefs. Cosmos, far from being deeply bad and beyond redemption, is a decent kid who looks for a way to Cherlyn's heart, although he is most definitely not on the pat to religious conversion. Some rough language, reflective of the times, might limit the book's appeal to readers who share Cherlyn's Christian sensibilities. Nevertheless this well-done narrative will appeal to most senior high readers. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen


From School Library Journal:
Gr 9 Up-With two graffiti offenses on his record, Cosmos pushes the limit by being arrested for brandishing a water pistol on a ferry. As an alternative to juvenile detention, his father arranges for Cosmos to spend his senior year with Uncle Henry and Aunt Minnie in rural Iowa. Bright and musically talented, the teen thinks that leaving Seattle, his band, and his urban friends to go to live with some "Jesus freaks" is a fate worse than jail. To survive, he knows that "William the Nice" will have to be the face he wears on the farm and at the Dutch Center Christian Academy. Fearing that everyone is conspiring to "convert" him, "Cosmos Coyote" stays on his guard around his new classmates and teachers. In time, the sights and smells of the farm begin to have a calming effect on him. His good-hearted relatives trust and support him even when he is the natural suspect in a theft at school. He finds it unbelievable that Cherlyn, a devout Christian, would like him for himself and he then starts to wonder which person he is, nasty or nice. Older teens will be engaged by the forbidden love that blooms between the two characters and is tested at every turn. However, the story moves slowly, with far too many discussions of Jesus and God in one's personal life. The dialogue is stilted and self-conscious, particularly the teens' constant professions of love for one another, and conveniences abound. This had the potential for a good story, but the religious message is too strong and takes over the action and Cosmos's sense of self-discovery.-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

From Children's Literture:
Cosmos De Haag seems to always find himself in trouble. And now, in order to avoid a six-month sentence in a juvenile detention facility, Cosmos leaves his home in Port Swan, Washington, to spend senior year attending a Christian Academy in Dutch Center, Iowa, "The most religious community on earth." In Iowa, Cosmos deals with the devout Christian community by presenting a phony persona, William the Nice, to the outside world, while preserving his Cosmos Coyote self inside. When Cosmos meets Cherlyn, he can't believe he's falling for a religious freak. But in Cherlyn, Cosmos finds his one true friend, the one person with whom he can be both Cosmos and William and not feel ashamed of either personality. Together Cosmos and Cherlyn deal with the prejudice and intolerance of their worlds and learn that humankind holds hope enough for each. A word of caution to parents and educators--this book contains frank descriptions of drug use and sexual acts. 2000, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 14 up, $17.95. Reviewer: Christopher Moning

From Publisher's Weekly:
When 17-year-old Cosmos De Haag gets threatened with six months in "juvie", his father feels that the only option is for him to spend senior year away from his hometown outside Seattle, and live with relatives in a religious farming community in Iowa. With trepidation he leaves behind his fledging rock band, the OughtaBs, and his girlfriend, Salal, for wide-open spaces, cow-dung and Dutch Center Christian Academy. To fit in, he swaps the rebellious persona of Cosmos Coyote for that of William the Nice. Then he meets beautiful and devout Cherlyn Van Dyke, Miss Popularity, who seems bent on saving him. Just when things are going well, a string of thefts occur and all fingers point to Cosmos. Simultaneously, Cherlyn's father attempts to curtail the blossoming romance between Cherlyn and Cosmos by forbidding her to be seen with him. While it's refreshing to see Christian faith represented without piety or dogma, Heynen's (Being Youngest) story is burdened with over-the-top romance: upon gazing at a star-filled sky, Cosmos gushes, "There's more sparkle in your smile than in the stars. There's more light in your eyes than in the moon," and Cherlyn responds "Let's go slowly More like the moon than a shooting star." Some racy (though fully clothed) scenes may keep readers involved, but in the end, despite a number of close calls, the conflicts fail to reach a satisfying pitch; everything smoothly resolves itself. Ages 14-up. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|

From VOYA:
Things are not going well for Cosmos. He faces significant time as a juvenile habitual offender for a long string of low-grade scrapes. His single, custodial father is dead set on packing Cosmos off to the Bible Belt to complete his senior year of high school under the loving, holy, watchful eyes of Cosmos's Uncle Henry and Aunt Minnie. When Cosmos seeks the comfort of his lover, Salal, manager of Cosmos's promising rock band, she stuns him with the news that she has left him for another woman. So off Cosmos goes to his aunt and uncle, determined to live an inconspicuous, unrevealing life as his alter ego, William the Nice, until this final ordeal is done and he can split the cornfields of Iowa and return to his beloved Washington state. His new classmates bring him more trouble, he finds some on his own, and then the unexpected happens. He falls hard for the beautiful, devout Cherlyn, who falls right back for Cosmos. Heynen eschews the obvious caricatures of bad hoodlum/pure virgin attraction. Cherlyn is a likeable, straightforward, healthily physical adolescent whose strong budding feelings are in conflict with her religious beliefs. Cosmos, far from being deeply bad and beyond redemption, is a decent kid who looks for a way to Cherlyn's heart, although he is most definitely not on the path to religious conversion. Some rough language, reflective of the times, might limit the book's appeal to readers who share Cherlyn's Christian sensibilities. Nevertheless this well-done narrative will appeal to most senior high readers. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, Henry Holt, Ages16 to 18, 280p, $16.95. Reviewer: Beth E. Andersen

From Kirkus Reviews:
An at-risk teenager finds love while skating the ragged edge of disaster, in this offbeat romance from the author of Being Youngest (1997). Desperate to stay out of juvie, Cosmos opts for an alternative sentence, leaving his Seattle-area home, band, and girlfriend for a year of high school at the Dutch Corners Christian Academy, near the strait-laced Iowa farm community in which his father had been raised. Knowing full well that he'd better keep his nose shiny clean, Cosmos tries to hide his wilder impulses behind a bland persona (see title)—not easy, especially when he comes under suspicion for a series of thefts at school just as he and born-again class leader Cherlyn are raising hackles by publicly falling madly in love. Readers will find plenty to like in this star-crossed pair, who alternate lens-fogging bouts of making out with honest, forthright discussions of their differences that are clearly fueled by genuine mutual respect. Cherlyn is not a caricature or a mouthpiece for the author, but a complex character with a simple faith, fully able to distinguish between God's expectations and those of her community, sensible but not afraid of pushing boundaries. Heynen keeps the tone light with hilariously over-the-top imagery—Cosmos perceives the feedlot odors floating through his bedroom window one summer night as "a three-layered stench cake"—provides a supporting cast of surprisingly (at least to Cosmos) tolerant adults, throws his protagonist into one potential catastrophe after another, and wraps it all up on a high note. A sweet, funny, passionate triumph. (Fiction. YA)



-- jh