by Kris Dinnison
Readers of Pete Fromm's popular Indian Creek Chronicles may be surprised to learn that Fromm's newest work is a gritty but hopeful novel about a teenage girl's coming of age in Great Falls, Mont. Indian Creek was a long time ago, and Fromm has since established himself as a skilled fiction writer with several novels and short story collections under his belt. This latest novel, As Cool As I Am (named for the Dar Williams song of the same title), draws the reader into the perplexing world of Lucy, an adolescent girl on the verge of adulthood and all the beauty and ugliness that implies. She enters ninth grade still a child: a lanky 14-year-old with a boyish buzz cut which her truck-driving father gives her every time he appears on the scene. Her favorite pastime is performing daring tricks with her best friend Kenny on the death trap of a jungle gym at the local park. But as she enters high school, Lucy's changing body, her father's lengthy absences, and her mother's avid pursuit of her own glory days all start to eat at Lucy's willingness to accept the status quo. For her whole life, she had tried to be the son her father always wanted, but biology and high school boys conspire to destroy that world of denial. Soon Lucy is thrust into a world of parties and sexual encounters that she is ill-prepared for.
But don't think for a moment that this is some Young Adult novel about a teenage girl's initiation into womanhood. Fromm creates in Lucy a multidimensional heroine whom the reader will alternately want to love, protect and yell at. Lucy's lightning progression from tomboy to young woman realistically mirrors the alarming world in which teenagers are coming of age today, and the story, told in her own wise voice, draws the reader in with its unsentimental frankness. Fromm also gives depth to the sporadically appearing father, whose absences from Lucy and her mother's life are deftly laid at his own feet in the end, and to Lucy's beautiful, fearful mother, whose desire for connection and companionship is both understandable and frustrating. The ending, which might at first appear tidy, is instead believable because the choices Lucy and her mother make are completely consistent with their characters and with the rest of the novel. In the end, As Cool As I Am satisfies because Fromm creates for us a character we care about and want to root for.
Publication date: 10/30/03