The people in this book are fourteen years old, and there is romance, but it’s mostly the kind of romance where one person looks at another person and that person looks at the first person, but their looks miss each other, maybe only by a second, and they don’t connect. There is a a scene in the Hitchcock movie Strangers on a Train where the wacko guy does this with his hands and says, “Criss Cross.” He’s talking about something else (murder) but I’m talking about those just-missed opportunities to connect. This might sound discouraging, but I think it’s actually encouraging to know that we came pretty close, and if we keep trying, we’ll get it right.
The book begins with this line from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream:
“What thou seest when thou dost wake, do it for thy true love take.”
I have a theory that there are moments in our lives when we are waking up, and whatever or whoever we encounter at those moments becomes important to us. It’s more about who we are right then than what we see.
Maybe we see a guitar.
Maybe a motorcycle.
Maybe a person.
Maybe it’s the wrong person.
How does anyone know?
Mistakes have to be made.
Maybe a lot of mistakes.
The characters who live in this book are at one of the major theory-forming times of life, and they are forming theories about everything from why there are so many black plastic combs lying on the ground to what Albert Einstein would have done if he were born an Eskimo. (Amazing things with blubber and ice.)
They are also saving lives (Debbie), writing songs (Hector), and working up the courage to say, “Hello” (everyone).
I read somewhere that one of the rules of writing romantic teen fiction is that there has to be a prom at the end, or a prom equivalent. This is the kind where that doesn’t happen. Well, there is that one time, with Debbie and Peter, but does it count? And will it ever happen again? And what are you supposed to do in the meantime?
If there is anyone out there who has ever wondered about things like this, I want to tell them that it’s okay. Or as Hector says in what might be his best song, even though he hasn’t written the verses yet:
and it’s fine, totally fine, totally fine all of the time.
Discussion Questions and Activities
are available on the “extras” page.
From reviews of Criss Cross:
“Perkins writes with subtle, wry humor about perceptive moments that will speak directly to readers. Best of all are the understated moments, often private and piercing in their authenticity, that capture intelligent, likable teens searching for signs of who they are, and who they’ll become.”
–ALA Booklist (starred review)
“Like a lazy summer day, the novel induces that exhilarating feeling that one has all the time in the world.”
—The Horn Book (starred review)
“Brilliantly captures the adolescent-level Zen that thoughtful kids bring to their assessment of the world.”
— The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
“There is a great deal of humor in this gentle story about a group of childhood friends facing the crossroads of life…Young teens will certainly relate.”
—School Library Journal (starred review)
“The writing sparkles with inventive, often dazzling metaphors. A tenderly existential work that will reward more thoughtful readers in this age of the ubiquitous action saga.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Quirky, delightful novel.”
–KLIATT (starred review)