Identity and Change

The themes of identity and change run throughout Criss Cross in many ways. Most immediately, this is primarily a novel about teenagers, and each of the young people in the novel finds himself or herself changing, often by the moment. As a result, everyone is continually asking, “Who am I?” in different ways. The author comments on change through the stylistic aspects of the novel, often shifting styles to match a chapter’s focus. However, the characters often reflect on the potential for change themselves. The novel’s first line is, “She wished something would happen,” and once Debbie is done defining and hedging that wish, which changes as soon as it comes into her mind, a second chapter begins. Hector, the male lead, tries out different metaphors for himself, consciously considering if the metaphor of childhood as cocoon was appropriate for him and if he is emerging as a butterfly (he decides he is not). Other characters are shown to be as confused about identity as well. Dan Persik is explicitly said to be under a magic spell and readers are told, “He wasn’t really a donkey” even as a drawing shows Dan with a donkey’s head. Which is real, the appearance or the statement? The inside or the outside? The person you used to be or the person you’re becoming? Everyone in the novel, from the parents to the senior-citizen neighbors, wrestles with these questions.


What sets Criss Cross apart from many other novels—young adult or otherwise—is that the characters neither exist nor change in isolation. Instead, like elements in a mosaic, they take on a major portion of their identity from the other pieces of their community they are placed next to. This positional quality is brought home in many ways. For example, Hector’s sister’s face appears beside his in the mirror, demanding comparison to the parallel columns,...

(The entire section is 694 words.)