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Review of PEPPERLAND by Mark Delaney

by Becky Laney

Delaney, Mark. 2004. PEPPERLAND. Atlanta: Peachtree. ISBN 156145317X.

Pamela Jean Cochran (a.k.a. Star) is sixteen when her mother dies from breast cancer. Struggling to find a way to cope, she turns to her music hoping that if she can write a song to honor her mother then she can finally let go of her anger and pain. While going through her mother's belongings, Star discovers a fan letter to John Lennon and a vintage Gibson guitar--now in need of repair. These two items are the catalyst to Star's healing process. Set in the fall of 1980, Delaney's novel is a wonderful exploration of grief, anger, loss, and confusion. Star and Dooley, her best friend, are remarkably well-developed characters. And Delaney's use of language is impressive. One striking passage occurs when Dooley shows Star his new drawing:

"Before me is a portrait of a young woman. She is strikingly beautiful, her face nearly white and her cheekbones shaded in an ice pale blue. Her eyes are large and pretty, but dark and a little wounded-looking. She's not really smiling. Behind her is a background of burgundy and violet. Within this background, and over the girl's face, are crossing lines, like the squares on a sheet of graph paper. It's as if little parts of her have been painted on hundreds of tiles, and the tiles have assembled themselves to make this image. Except in the upper left-hand corner, the pattern breaks down. The tiles are scattered, the lines no longer forming perfect angles. The pieces seem to be falling, cascading into place. The girl is in the process of becoming a complete picture...And then I understand. I see it. The girl with the wounded eyes, the girl who doesn't quite smile, the girl made of a thousand pieces that are falling, at last, into their proper places...She's me" (105-106).

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