Sunday, October 4, 2009

Center Line (1984)

Joyce Sweeney, il. (cover)
1984, Laurel-Leaf Books, Delacorte, Dell Publishing

"I've seen all of you changing because of what he's been doing to us. Rick's getting sullen, Steven's a coward, Mark laughs at things that aren't funny, like he's losing touch with reality. You were getting to the point where you blamed yourself for everything that happened. And me..." Shawn hesitated, took a drink of coffee. "I think I was starting to be like him."

The five Cunningan boys lost their mother to a car accident when they were small; their dad is a drunken jerk who beats them when he can get off the couch. Now it's the final days of the summer before Shawn, the eldest at 18, goes off to college. But seeing one of his brothers get beaten up yet again drives Shawn to a decision; instead of him escaping legitimately to college and leaving the others behind, he'll skip college and take his brothers on the road. They steal their dad's car and run, four minor runaways and one technical adult in a stolen car.

A prolonged character study of five very different brothers, and their relationships as they try to make their way in the world together while avoiding the notice of the authorities. The stress of their situation brings out the best and worst of all their personalities - Shawn's leadership and bullying, Steven's warmth and fearfulness, Chris's morality and blind loyalty, Rick's cleverness and amorality, and Mark's courage and immaturity.

Shawn was the leader and had all the ideas, and Chris's job was to back him up, to second the motion, to quell doubts in the ranks. Shawn depended on him for that.

Shawn and Chris have always had a particular friendship; the tall, confident eldest looks out for his somehow vulnerable younger brother, whose religious leanings are a family joke but whose loyalty is a balm to Shawn compared with the cynical testing of the other siblings.

Steven is a loner by nature, but he considers his brothers his anchors. The true loner of the family is Rick, who only came along on this little venture because the alternative was being alone with their dad. He's just biding his time until he gets the chance to run off from the rest, go to a big city and take care of himself. Mark is the blindly faithful youngest, doglike in his devotion to Shawn. But as their journey to Florida develops complications, even Chris and Mark question their leader. And Mark, who questioned him all along, ignites a battle that draws police attention.

A classic problem novel set-up, complete with abusive parent, but it manages to be more interesting than most.

About the Author
Author website
Interesting bio info here

According to this website, Center Line was inspired by something Sweeney read about the Beatles as young men in Germany, alone and forced to look out for each other. Her first novel, it was published after winning Delacorte's first competition for first YA novels.

Other Editions

Also by Author
The Guardian
Waiting For June
The Spirit Window
Free Fall
The Tiger Orchard
Piano Man
Face The Dragon
The Dream Collector
Right Behind The Rain