Picks and Pans Review: If You Want Me to Stay

updated 10/03/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/03/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Michael Parker

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Like Huckleberry Finn, the 14-year-old narrator of Michael Parker's persuasive new novel, If You Want Me to Stay, has a serious problem with his father. Joel Junior's dad is mentally ill; when his craziness finally gets too frightening, the teenager leaves his brother Carter to an uncertain fate and hits the road with his younger brother Tank. As their odyssey brings them full circle toward a harrowing conclusion, the boys meet a rogue's gallery of indelible characters, most notably their spirited, foul-mouthed older sister Angie. But what fuels the story and keeps us reading is not plot so much as Joel Junior's enduring and knowledgeable passion for soul music, his intensely individualized language and the bracing experience of seeing the world from inside his lively, energetic young mind.

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