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.
Criss Cross follows several characters through intersecting storylines of intense meaning and transformation. These storylines are defined by internal events of emotion and understanding, and the paths the characters take to the events are individual, even idiosyncratic. Sometimes impossible things happen; other times events occur in a stylized or free-floating fashion. Because it is not clear precisely what happens in the novel and which characters are involved, the main events of each chapter are listed and summarized below.
Chapter 1. One storyline follows Debbie, who opens the novel wishing for something to happen. She plays with her necklace and wishes her life could be like the catch on the necklace, opening spontaneously to allow things to pass.
Chapter 2. A second storyline follows Hector. Hector’s sister Rowanne invites him to attend an event at a nearby coffeehouse. While there, Hector realizes he has been a cover for Rowanne to go out with a boy.
Chapter 3. Debbie and her friends tan. Debbie reads a science fiction novel in which characters are telepathic and gain a mate through a floating wisdom. This makes her think about how hard it is to know what boys are thinking.
Chapter 4. Hector, Phil, Lenny, and Debbie sit in Lenny’s dad's truck and listen to a radio show called "Criss Cross."
Chapter 5. This show becomes a regular Saturday night event, but there is variation in who listens. Sometimes those variations are revealing. There is only room in the truck to seat three people, so when Debbie and her friend Patty attend for the first time, Hector and Phil give up their seats; this is the first time they have responded to them as boys to girls.
Chapter 6. Debbie and Patty change clothes while hiding inside a rhododendron bush because they want to wear what is cool rather than what their parents want. As Debbie changes, her necklace falls to the ground and a chipmunk drags it away.
Chapter 7. While sitting in the truck with Phil and Lenny, Debbie is repelled by the smell of the snuff Lenny has started to chew. The snuff is a sign of their diverging paths. Although he is as smart as his friend, a teacher who encourages his mechanical skills has tagged Lenny for the vocational track.
Chapter 8. Debbie helps her father fix the kitchen sink and she ponders becoming a plumber.
Chapter 9. Hector begins taking guitar lessons in the basement of the Presbyterian church along with several other students, including Meadow, a girl Hector finds attractive (whose name he first hears as Metal), and Dan Persik, a handsome football player.
Chapter 10. Patty and Debbie have a conversation in the dark about how things are supposed to be. Their questions and answers are at first tagged by their initials only, and then, after a while, only by question marks. One of the question marks (Debbie) asks if Dan Persik might like her.
Chapter 11. Hector composes his first song.
Chapter 12. Only Debbie and Lenny show up one Saturday, which makes the situation tense with sexual possibilities until Lenny decides to teach Debbie how to drive the truck.
Chapter 13. Hector tries to think of someplace he could take Meadow that would be romantic. While walking, he sees...
(The entire section is 1439 words.)