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Book brief: Love by Matt De La Pena and Loren Long; Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson


Love by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Loren Long; G.P. Putnam's Sons, $17.99.

This wonderful, eloquent celebration of love is an inspired collaboration between acclaimed YA author Matt de la Pena, who won the Newbery Medal for picture book "Last Stop on Market Street," and Loren Long, a gifted artist who happens to be color-blind. Among the pink, fluffy cutesy "Valentine's Day" love-theme books from publishers, this one goes deep, celebrating this universal bond, this precious thing, wherever it may be discovered, in children dancing around sprinklers in summer, a city street, a trailer park, an inner-city apartment, fishing with grandpa,  your big brother making you breakfast. It starts on a biblical note: "In the beginning there is light"... - the illustration from a baby's perspective in a crib - "and two wide-eyed figures standing near the foot of your bed, and the sound of their voices is love." Love can't be bought, and the text and pictures celebrate simple things, enjoyed by a diversity of people, many of them people of color, many of them poor. Sadness and loss are part of love, and this book doesn't look away from those hard facts, of love "flaming out." Children feel deeply, and one haunting double illustration shows a bad dream, a small girl wandering in the dark amid a giant jumble of what appears to be an attic: "In your dream that night you are searching for a love that seems lost. You open and close drawers, lift cushions, empty old toy bins, but there's nothing."But then, the loving embrace of a parent. "And in time you learn to recognize a love overlooked. A love that wakes at dawn and rides to work on the bus. A slice of burned toast that tastes like love."  This lovely, extraordinary picture book will be, like Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Places You'll Go," the perfect book to give a loved one graduating from high school, getting engaged, celebrating a new baby.


Truly Devious: A Mystery by Maureen Johnson; Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 416 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.

This riveting, masterfully plotted page-turner from Edgar nominee Maureen Johnson is two mysteries in one and the first of a series. Told in alternating chapters, it shifts between 16-year-old Stevie Bell, a would-be sleuth newly accepted at the elite Ellingham Academy in Vermont, and the 1936 abduction of the academy founder's wife and 3-year-old daughter.  (The "Truly Devious" of the title was the name signed on a threatening note sent to Arthur Ellingham before the kidnapping and ransom demand.) Stevie, who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, is relieved to be free of her ultra-conservative parents and their conspiracy theories but feels out of place among her well-traveled, well-off classmates, a weird assortment of thinkers, inventors and artists.  Stevie is obsessed with the Ellingham case and applied to the school solely to solve the mystery. But when a classmate ends up dead in mysterious circumstances, she may have another possible crime to solve. Johnson offers a brilliant, often very funny portrait of this private school of free spirits and their elaborate projects and plans and Stevie's struggle to fit in with this unfamiliar social scene, even as she can't refrain from the snooping and sharp observations that make her a good detective but tend to alienate her peers.  She finds herself attracted to a classmate, then searches his room. The chapters set in 1936 vividly evoke the terror and suspense of the disappearance and offer vivid portraits of  the wealthy and weird hangers-on who orbited around the wealthy Ellinghams.  "To be continued" are welcome final words in this excellent and most entertaining mystery.

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