Picks and Pans Review: Shelter

updated 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Monte Merrick

Had Catcher in the Rye's Holden Caulfield been born a decade later and come of age in the Ohio suburbs instead of New York City, he would have been Nelson Jaqua, the bright, confused and achingly self-conscious 13-year-old narrator of this touching, comic debut novel by the screenwriter of Memphis Belle.

And if there's one thing about Nelson that is more overactive than his libido, it is his imagination: In between baby-sitting his 4-year-old sister, witnessing the demise of his parents' marriage and falling in love, he "discovers" that a neighbor couple have murdered their retarded son.

All this might have the melodramatic, high concept Hollywood smoothness you'd expect from a screenwriter. But what saves Shelter is the endearingly offbeat Nelson. "My dad and I didn't has a lot in common," he notes. "He was 38, I was 13. He was married, I wasn't. He had two kids, I didn't have any. He liked to fish, I liked to read. He collected stamps, I didn't collect anything." Any postpubescent with a memory will identify. (Hyperion, $19.95)

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