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Grand & Humble    by Brent Hartinger order for
Grand & Humble
by Brent Hartinger
Order:  USA  Can
HarperTempest, 2006 (2006)

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* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

For his fourth book, Brent Hartinger has written a different type of story from his usual teen angst novels. Don't get me wrong, Grand & Humble is filled with the angst that Hartinger captures so well, but it is in the form of a psychological thriller this time, rather than something closer to a teen romance.

Two seventeen-year-old boys have been having strange premonitions that neither can explain. Other than attending the same high school and both being well-versed in American Sign Language, they are completely different. Harlan is the son of a senator, class president, and one of the strongest members of the swim team. Manny lives with his single father, is a techie for the school's drama department, and has never swum in his life. While the two boys never meet, as the story approaches its shocking twist, the reader learns that they have more in common than appears on the surface, stemming from a particular intersection in their city ... the corner of Grand and Humble.

As in his three previous novels, Hartinger creates a major character who is different in some way. This time, it is Manny's deaf best friend Elsa. The Deaf culture also comes into play in Harlan's life as he works with deaf kids as a volunteer at his local YMCA. Hartinger does a wonderful job of showing that Elsa is just another teenager despite having what most people see as a disability. A character such as Elsa is an excellent vehicle to get readers to think differently about those who are unlike them and realize that everyone shares common ground on the inside even when different on the outside. Plus, Hartinger never become didactic in his portrayal of how his normal characters interact with the differentiated one, thus keeping his novels teen-friendly.

Another thing that makes the reader think in this story is the amount of symbolism, something not really present in Hartinger's earlier works. The title not only refers to the intersection that connects the two main characters, but to Harlan and Manny themselves. Also, the boys' premonitions have meanings that become more and more significant as the story unfolds. These symbols add to the psychological nature of the novel. Brent Hartinger has ventured into new territory with Grand & Humble, and it suits his writing style well. Fans will not be disappointed with his latest offering.

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