Criss Cross is a lovely, lyrical, whimsical novel that manages to do several things at once. First, it is a sensitive chronicle of adolescence. Although it is set in the 1970s, author Lynne Rae Perkins evokes the feeling of being a teenager in a timeless fashion. All of her characters are emerging into different worlds. They are becoming new people and trying on new identities, not just as individuals but also as social units. Perkins captures the feeling of people, relationships, and communities forming and reforming in an almost effortless manner.
Second, Criss Cross is amazingly artistic and stylized book. Perkins, who was trained in printmaking, brings a highly developed sense of design to the novel. Criss Cross is filled with diagrams, drawings, shifts in fonts, and shifts in point of view (one segment is even told from the point of view of a necklace). For example, Chapter 22 follows two characters through the same period of time by arranging simultaneous narratives in two columns of text. Because the characters are male and female and are reading works that are stereotypical of their genders (Popular Mechanics and Wuthering Heights, respectively), the textual parallels are matched by a metaphorical and thematic disjuncture, making Criss Cross one of the few genuinely postmodern young adult novels.
Third and finally, Criss Cross is a gentle and amusing book that anyone can read, full of ridiculous situations, quick jokes, and oblique references that will appeal to a range of senses of humor. This humor is a worthy quality in itself, but Perkins also uses it to make more palatable her edged observations about the painful and hesitant moments that define adolescence.
Criss Cross is a sequel to Perkins’s earlier novel All Alone in the Universe, but it stands alone and can be read without the first book.