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rob&    by P. J. Petersen & Ivy Ruckman order for
by P. J. Petersen
Order:  USA  Can
Laurel Leaf, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The setup for rob& is a meeting on the Net in A Bulletin Board for Teen Poets - Poets 'N' Wannabes. entitled her contribution The Sacrifice: 'My hair is gone! / My gorgeous, golden, strokeable hair - / it's gone! I'm shaved to the scalp / to make Angie feel better'. Sara's friend Angie is undergoing chemo treatments for stage III cancer. emails in response to Sara's poem: 'I just wanted to tell you that I like your poem. It's real, and it's honest ... Don't worry. I'm weird, but I'm not dangerous'. So Sara and Rob's story begins, as the authors write: 'They've never met, / They're hundreds of miles apart. / He won't tell her his real name. / And they have nothing in common. / Or do they?'

Sixteen-year old Sara is the daughter of an army colonel. A military brat, she's attended seven different schools in eleven years, and wants to stay in Utah. It's about roots, not about proms or fluff. Sara's hopes are dashed when she learns that Dad's being transferred to another country. But, then comes the offer of living with Aunt Ginny in southern Utah, from where she would visit Angie on weekends.

Even though there are typical teen-parent squabbles, Sara loves her parents and is loved in return, but Rob's situation is not so good. 'Pine Creek Academy ('Camp Feelgood') is weird but it's better than jail', Rob (also sixteen) writes of his school for troubled teenagers, which caters to the wealthy. His father has been married four times. Rob's mother - the third - is an alcoholic, in and out of rehab. Rob is at the academy because 'Last spring I snuck out of school ... I walked for hours, trying to get out of the city. Then I saw the double-parked car ... I just wanted to get out of there.' He describes his school to Sara, 'We have guys who can't read ... 'homefries' so burned out on drugs that they drool on themselves, a wing full of hypers ... skinheads, stoners, aliens, and coyote chasers'.

After not hearing from Rob for a while, Sara emails Shannon (whose computer Rob used a few times). The reply is that 'there is no Rob Cruise at this school. Since getting your message, I have been trying to identify Rob Cruise's creator. That shouldn't be hard, but it is ... I thought you deserved an answer.' When Sara does hear from Rob, she asks questions about his name, family life, etc., without revealing her contact with Shannon. Though there are bad times for Rob and Sara, the authors make it upbeat and non-stop interesting. The reader cannot help but cheer for these two very special cyberpals.

Though rob& is not an unusual story, the authors' well-tuned writing style has created something different and beautiful. For a year, Petersen (California) and Ruckman (Utah) sent emails to each other signed Rob and Sara. From that, they decided to create a novel incorporating email messages. The book that resulted has been recognized as A New York Public Library Book For The Teen Age and A Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Book Of The Year.

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