Saturday, October 4, 2008

Driver's Ed / by Caroline Cooney

Best known for her Face on the Milk Carton series, Caroline Cooney's been a longtime stalwart of the genre, even winning a Children's Choice award for her Out of Time books. In Driver's Ed, the teenage pastime of sign-stealing becomes lethal when a freak accident kills four people. As with so many penultimate dates in adolescence, sixteen lingers as one more threshold into adulthood. For Remy Marland, it embodies the long-awaited, much-anticipated privelege of driving as only weeks away from obtaining her license, she lives day-to-day hoping that her next Driver's Ed class will mean her turn to drive. Not just a pre-requisite, Driver's Ed is significant for another reason . . . Morgan Campbell.

Like Remy, Morgan's sanity seems dependent on a license to drive a car. The son of a local politician, he's known all his life that a car meant freedom, an instrument by which he can remove himself far from undesirable authority figures. He may feel sure about what he wants, but he's far less confident about himself. A fact evidenced by insecurity around girls and frequent doubts concerning his family's credibility.

When, during one Driver's Ed class, a loosely arranged night-about-town pits Remy and Morgan alongside each other, it seems fortune has favored serendipity. But when a routine prank ends in catastrophe, the budding romance gets rocky as indescribable pangs of guilt and conscience intertwine within each.

The author's intuition into the characters is the strongpoint of this psychological suspense thriller where "right-of-passage" invokes more than a few double meanings. As is often the case with Cooney, the story's premise really hinges on a rather rangy "What if?" scenario, straddling the line between practiced realism and unsupported conjecture. But even withstanding any contrived aspects, readers will gravitate toward the story's gothic elements as Cooney's keen observational narrative is sure to resonate with the audience.

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