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title: What Hearts
author: Bruce Brooks
Soon after first-grader Asa is told of his parents' impending divorce, he is abruptly introduced to Dave, his stepfather-to-be. Dave does not like the boy, who's smart and precocious, sometimes obnoxiously so. His mother, who becomes increasingly depressed, objects only mildly to her new husband's negative attitude toward her son. When Asa is about 12, his mother has an emotional breakdown and divorces again. Ironically, Asa and Dave have gradually reached an understanding of sorts. By the end, Asa has learned to accept life's hard knocks and he risks telling a girl he loves her. Although she proves fickle, he survives with a sense of inner strength and hope for a better tomorrow. The boy's adultlike understanding of others is sometimes hard to believe, and this might make it difficult for readers to empathize with him. In contrast, Dave is effectively depicted as a hard, angry man with a heart underneath. A boy's coming-of-age story set within a troubled stepfamily is a worthy endeavor, and Brooks is extremely skilled in describing psychological subtleties of thoughts, feelings, and relationships. However, his highly contemplative style may lack the immediacy necessary to grab all but the brightest, most ``Asa-like'' readers.