Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Review: The Decoding of Lana Morris

I read many books while I was overseas, a fact my sporadic blogging this past month does not reflect. This week, I hope to review a few of the books that have stayed with me for one reason or another. The Decoding of Lana Morris, by Laura & Tom McNeal, was one of those books. (And, if you're looking for a great adult read, so was Restless, by William Boyd.)

Lana Morris is a 16-year-old foster kid, who has bounced from place to place in the system. Her case worker, Hallie, cares about her, but is realistic as well. Hallie understands she won't find perfection for Lana.

And, she hasn't. Lana's latest home is with the Winters, a couple who host quite a few foster kids, more for the money than for a love of service. Lana's not surprised by the generic, low-cost food and Veronica Winters' extreme lack of concern for her charges. Lana is worried, however, by the fact that she's the only teen in the home who is not developmentally delayed. The special needs kids (SNKs or Snicks, as Lana calls them) are sweet, but Lana finds herself in charge more than she'd like. And, the town "cool" kids treat Lana cruelly, teasing the Snicks and ignoring Lana herself.

On one such outing with the cool kids (Lana rides in the trunk), Lana purchases an old drawing kit in curio shop. Soon she discovers that what she draws on this paper comes true. The McNeals' use of magical realism in The Decoding of Lana Morris is masterful--the magical drawings only enhance the story and in no way do they become the focus of the book. Through her drawings Lana understands herself and others better--including her mercurial foster mother, Veronica--and they help Lana make decisions for herself and the Snicks wisely and compassionately.

The Decoding of Lana Morris is a quick read--the McNeals' style is light and colloquial. But Lana Morris is also original, thought-provoking, and, ultimately, very rewarding.

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