Source of book: Audiobook from the library.
For the last 7+ years, since I started traveling and camping throughout the western United States with the kids - trying to see as many of the national parks as we can before the kids grow up and move away - we have also been using audiobooks to make the miles pass faster and keep me awake. As part of this, we have been listening to many of the Newbery Award winners and honor books, not in any systematic order, but as they seem interesting and as they become available in our library system.
Criss Cross won the Newbery Award in 2006. We haven’t read or listened to any of the honor books from that year, so it is hard to compare the competition. I would say that Criss Cross was fine, but not the most memorable book. It had some good points, and some interesting plot lines, but it mostly didn’t seem to go much of anywhere. It was almost like a vignette that captured a particular moment in time, but was then expanded into a whole book. The book is apparently a sort-of sequel to the author’s previous book, All Alone in the Universe. I am not alone in this judgment - the book never really sold well either. (That’s not my only criterion, obviously, as I really love Richard Peck, even the ones that didn’t sell for whatever reason.)
Anyway, Criss Cross is set in the fictional (and presumably Midwestern?) town of Seldem, sometime when bell bottoms were the rage, and features in turn four friends: Debbie (who is in the previous book), Lenny, Hector, and Phil. Debbie and Hector get the most time. The characters are all in Jr. High, and essentially have their coming-of-age moments during the book, perhaps as the result of Debbie’s necklace, which she loses after making a wish on it.
Hector and Debbie almost, but don’t quite fall in love, although they have crushes on other people at other points in the book. Debbie spends time caring for an elderly woman, a German immigrant, in her house, which is actually one of the more compelling episodes. She meets and falls for the woman’s grandson, Peter. Hector, on the other hand, goes to a concert (dragged by his elder sister for the purpose of having an excuse not to go out with a boy afterwards), and falls in love with the guitar. His discovery of his talent at singing and playing (and his budding talent at songwriting) becomes his story arc. For Lenny, he is trying to find his place in the world as a smart, mechanical, person who never seems to be respected as academically capable, and is instead put on the “trade school” track, so to speak. Phil gets the least space on the page, and the least interesting story arc.
The stories, with the exceptions noted above, seem pretty standard internal drama for tweens and teens. Who am I, and who do I want to be? Why do the pretty and/or popular kids only date people like themselves? Will anything important or interesting ever happen to me? It isn’t bad as far as it goes - the author handles the issues in a gentle and nuanced manner. But it doesn’t feel particularly deep or compelling somehow. There isn’t enough development to make it a good psychological drama, and there is little action. As I noted above, perhaps the book suffers in comparison to Richard Peck, who manages to find a way to make things humorous, or otherwise dramatic and fascinating.
Also not helping - for me at least - was the fact that the narrator (Danielle Ferland), while competent at the reading, had a voice that annoyed me. It was just the timbre of the voice that I found irritating. Sorry about throwing shade - I know audiobooks are not easy to make - but the voice quality grated on me.
In summary, not a bad book by any means: it had its moments. But not one for the pantheon either.