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Kaleidoscope Eyes

Review

Kaleidoscope Eyes

Thirteen-year-old Lyza Bradley recounts her life in Willowbank, New Jersey, in a series of poems. It's 1968: the Vietnam War is taking the lives of young men from the town and drafting others. Lyza's older sister, Denise, is in thrall to Janis Joplin and to her long-haired boyfriend Harry (Lyza calls him "Hairy").

Lyza's mother has been gone for two years; after she left, she lost contact with Lyza, Denise and their father. Denise tore up her college applications, choosing instead to work as a waitress at Willowbank Diner, hang out with Harry, and drive Lyza crazy. Lyza's father, a college professor, works all the time and seems almost as remote as her vanished mother. Luckily, though, Lyza has two rock-solid friends. There's Malcolm, who in many ways lives the same life as Lyza (same kind of three-story Victorian home, same classes, same age) but happens to be African-American. And there's quick and lively mystery-reading Carolann.

When Lyza's grandfather dies, Lyza thinks about all the funerals she's been to lately. Most of the deaths are young Willowbank men who died in Vietnam. She also reminisces about how she and Gramps would plan imaginary trips together, using his collection of maps. Gramps was always an adventurer, which is something his son, Lyza's father, could never relate to. (Lyza proclaims that her dad is "allergic to risk.") Gramps had once tried to sail solo from Florida to Maine. Although it was an unsuccessful trip, and terrifying, Gramps told Lyza he had never felt more alive than he did during his journey.

Lyza, Denise and their father begin to clear out Gramps's house. Lyza volunteers to take care of the attic where she and Gramps spent so many hours together. There, she discovers an envelope addressed to her. Within are papers that have no meaning to Lyza, including cryptic maps. Although she can't figure them out, they nag at her. Why would Gramps leave these particular papers to her? Why would he draw a picture of the way the local river, the Mullica, flowed in 1699? Why would he pay an engineer to verify the path of the Mullica back then?

Gramps also left a key, but Lyza has no idea what it unlocks. When Lyza gets frustrated pondering Gramps's mystery, she remembers that he always said adventures are better shared. So she shares her puzzling inheritance with Carolann and Malcolm. Luckily, eighth grade is ending. With summer vacation here, the three have plenty of time to investigate --- at least until Lyza's dad begins worrying about her odd, secretive behavior. Suspicious that Lyza is dabbling in drugs, he works hard to fill up her schedule, making her detective work much more challenging. But by then, Lyza, Malcolm and Carolann know that they are on to something big. They've pieced together clues, and, crazy as it may seem, they're almost positive they're searching for pirate treasure from a notorious pirate captain. It seems likely there may be a treasure chest that sunk in 1699 in a river that changed course over the decades. But can they find it?

Against the realistic backdrop of 1968, filled with the events of the times, including demonstrations against the war, racial discrimination, young men being drafted to fight, soldiers coming home wounded or in coffins, and political assassinations, Lyza's story is personal, suspenseful and intriguing. Her search for treasure also uncovers much about her own life as she grows and changes. Author Jen Bryant skillfully depicts relationships, including piercingly poignant scenes, without resorting to undue sentimentality. Because of Lyza's gripping story and the verse format, KALEIDOSCOPE EYES is a page-turner ("Just one more poem and I'll quit reading." "Okay…just one more poem…") and a truly excellent read.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on November 9, 2010

Kaleidoscope Eyes
by Jen Bryant

  • Publication Date: November 9, 2010
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Yearling
  • ISBN-10: 044042190X
  • ISBN-13: 9780440421900