When 15-year-old Mary Fred Anderson's parents are charged with second-degree murder in the neglectful death of their son, Mary Fred is sent from the fundamentalist commune she's grown up in to the nearby Maryland suburbs and the foster care of a quirky 1990s family headed by librarian Alice Cullison, in this topical but uneven debut. A single mom, Alice lives with her brother, Roy, and her sullen 15-year-old daughter, Heather. Bardi has set up a high-concept collision involving several timely issues: cult religions and drugs (Roy spends his days working a scam that enables him to buy heroin, but Heather is too self-absorbed to notice and Alice too flummoxed). Despite the use of multiple narrators the novel is divided into the Book of Mary Fred, the Book of Alice, the Book of Roy and the Book of Heather characters are not fully developed because they are captive to the plot. (Bardi is good at interior dialogue, however, as when Heather muses, "I don't like anything about Sara. For one thing, she's very polite and self-confident and she talks to adults like she's their oldest friend.") The result is unsatisfactory ambiguity: Bardi wants us to take seriously the members of her cobbled-together family, but throws in a kitchen-sinkful of colorful secondary characters for comic effect; the Cullisons' neighbor Paula, for instance, is a postoperative transsexual heavily dependent on astrology. The contrast between the hardworking, literal-minded Mary Fred and the materialistic, self-absorbed Heather is potentially most interesting, but their relationship is not thoroughly fleshed out. Bardi's message may be that cult member or not, we each carry the burden of a belief system a sound enough idea, but one only sketchily developed. (Sept.)Forecast: Bardi pushes lots of hot buttons here, and browsers may bite when they scan the cover copy; the quirky title will help, too.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to theHardcoveredition.