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Books in Brief: Boy by Blake Nelson; Amazon Adventure by Sy Montgomery

Boy by Blake Nelson; Simon & Schuster, 358 pages ($18.99) Ages 14 and up.
This riveting novel of a teenage boy's journey toward self-discovery comes from the author of 1994 coming-of-age classic "Girl," "Recovery Road" and "Paranoid Park," which was made into a movie by Gus Van Sant. "Boy" is written as the interior monologue of Gavin Meeks, who is tall, blond, athletic and one of the "insiders" at Evergreen High School in suburban Portland.  As sophomore year begins, Gavin has dropped out of competitive tennis, which used to be his "thing,"  and he seems to have no plan for the future, which infuriates his father, a high-powered attorney. (Gavin's father favors older son Russell, who likes Porsches and Rolexes and is headed for Cornell.) Gavin seems to be a passive observer in his world - his friends set him up with his first girlfriend- but the arrival of a new student at high school - dark, dramatic, different Antoinette, whose older brother committed suicide - immediately intrigues him. Unlike Gavin and his friends, Antoinette doesn't care what anyone thinks ("It was like she knew the future and was already preparing for it. She was going to learn the things she needed to learn. She was going to do the things she needed to do. And the rest of it: high school, social life, teachers was just noise to her.")  On impulse, Gavin picks up his older brother's extremely expensive camera and a new world opens to him, as he discovers a passion for photography and a new world of possibility, thanks in part to his strange friendship with Antoinette. (After going with Antoinette and her friend to an arcade downtown "on a scuzzy block near the bus station": "We sat on the curb, her smoking and me trying to act casual with my four-thousand-dollar camera while bums and criminals and drug dealers hovered around.") Gavin's odyssey toward discovering his true self, moving over the period of three years  toward real connection with others, toward truly "seeing" through his camera lens is a coming-of-age classic with an honesty and authenticity reminiscent of Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise" and "Boyhood." For example: "As he talked I felt that sinking sensation in my chest that I often got during moments when my father and I completely misunderstood each other. We weren't on the same planet at such moments. We weren't even in the same universe. In that way, he was right. It was my life now. He sure didn't know anything about it."
Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World's Largest Rainforest by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Keith Ellenbogen; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 80 pages ($18.99) Ages 10 to 12.
National Book Award nominee Sy Montgomery documents the fascinating Amazon odyssey of Scott Dowd, senior aquarist at the New England Aquarium in Boston, and his work with the fishermen of  the Brazilian town of Barcelos on the Amazon River who make their living capturing and selling small, colorful tropical fish - such as cardinal tetras and marbled hatchet fish - for export to public and home aquarium tanks around the world. In her lively narrative, Montgomery takes us underwater in the tea-colored Rio Negro where the shy fish are coaxed from their hiding places, separates fact from fiction about the "seven deadly plagues of the Amazon" including the giant jao catfish, the piranha and the black caiman, and then offers a front-row seat at the Festival of Ornamental Fish which draws crowds for fish-themed floats, dancing, poetry and fireworks. A particularly fascinating chapter deals with veterinary care for fish, including a specialist who once used superglue to affix  a blue contact lens over the injured eye of a rockfish. This is the latest installment in the excellent "Scientists in the Field" series following "The Great White Shark Scientist" in 2016.
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