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A HOLE IN JUAN
By Gillian Roberts
Ballentine, Feb. 2006 ($23.95)
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
The wedding is over, the honeymoon phase is still going strong, her hubby has left the mean streets of law enforcement for academia, she's doing a job she loves - most of the time - and Amanda Pepper should be riding high. Instead, she finds herself uneasy and somewhat dissatisfied with her life.
For one thing, after spending the day trying to impart wisdom and knowledge to a group of less than enthusiastic, hormone-driven teenagers, she wants to spend her evenings chilling out with grownups, especially her hunky husband C.K. Mackenzie. However, she's now playing hostess to C.K.'s nephew Kip, who had his heart broken back home in Iowa and dropped out of school. The extensive Mackenzie clan believes that giving their members a change of scenery is as good as therapy, Kip idolizes his crime fighting uncle, and the clan must be obeyed. Amanda is fond of the boy and really doesn't mind having him around, but she worries about his lack of initiative and his fixation on getting involved in what he believes is the thrilling job of crime detection. Never mind that C.K. is now a full-time student, working on a Ph.D., and that the most exciting private eye case his P.I. firm is working on at present is staking out a middle-aged slip and fall victim's house to see if she's really incapacitated. Kip just knows something juicy will come up. Sure enough, something does.
It is the week preceding the Night of Mischief, a time-honored time for pranks and harmless jokes, and the students at Philly Prep are doing their part. Pretty soon, though, those pranks turn ugly, then violent. Most of the mischief is aimed at an unpopular new science teacher, Juan Angel Reyes, although Amanda gets hit with a few unfunny pranks too. Dr. Jar, as the students refer to him, has no sense of humor about having his lab equipment moved around, or his briefcase destroyed. Things soon go from bad to much, much worse.
While worrying about her seniors' puzzling and secretive behavior, Amanda does have some success with her students. She has coaxed a few of them to express themselves in poetry, to the point that they feel comfortable enough to put on a televised poetry reading for the entire school. She barely has time to bask in the glow of the well-received program before the pompous headmaster hits her with a bombshell. He brands the heart-felt poem one girl wrote about a relative injured in the Iraqi war as seditious and un-American. For Amanda, this is truly the last straw. No longer caring if she loses her job, she uses this travesty to teach her kids an important lesson about their First Amendment rights, a lesson they embrace whole-heartedly.
Roberts gets better with every book, and she was darn good to start with. Her books contain understated humor, well-plotted mysteries, and wonderful characters, interwoven with thought-provoking and timely topics like the state of free speech and censorship in America today, and the power of right-minded people working together, standing up for what they believe in, and changing the world. Or at least a small part of it. Right on, Philly Prep!
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