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Pat Schmatz
Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group
192 pages. $18.95.

Until Rick shows up in high school chemistry class the first day of junior year in this novel, Maxie hadn’t seen him since they were sixth-grade buddies who designed crazy mousetraps on paper. He disappeared that year after being injured in a violent attack during gym class. The incident was hushed up, but Maxie knows what happened, because her gay cousin, Sean, tried to stop the mob.

Rick has grown tall and wary, but when they become lab partners, he’s pleased that Maxie still draws amusing cartoons – on their lab work and this novel’s pages. Away from school, they hang out. Assuming that Rick is gay, Maxie is confused by his mixed signals, especially his scary “laser-look.” When “faggot” is keyed onto Rick’s car, Maxie is supportive. Then Rick shocks Maxie with a kiss that goes very wrong. She’s never seen such explosive anger, and now Rick won’t see her.

In this homophobic school rife with violent bullying, staffers look the other way, but Maxie’s family doesn’t. In a nail-biting conclusion, Sean, Maxie and her gay uncles come through for Rick and help avert his dangerous plan for the school. Without one preachy word, Schmatz opens the way for discussions of urgent issues affecting today’s schools. (800) 328-4929,