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Crusader    by Edward Bloor order for
by Edward Bloor
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (1999)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Fifteen-year-old Roberta Ritter shares a Florida duplex and a job with her father, but not a life. He is simply never around, and they mostly communicate with each other via notes. When they're not at school, Roberta and her cousins Kristin and Karl work in the family business, an arcade called Arcane in a run-down mall. Arcane's latest acquisition is the Crusader game, in which knights battle 'the bloodthirsty infidel'. Karl is 'scary looking' and has a serious attention problem. His blond and beautiful sister Kristin is 'pretty close to perfect'.

Roberta has nightmares relating to the murder of her mother when she was a child, and, unlike her peers, has not menstruated yet. She is intelligent and interested in a career as a reporter. In addition to the basic mystery surrounding the death of Roberta's young mother, the book introduces a wide cast of interesting characters and some excellent issues to do with race, politics, the media, and the dangers of judging by appearance.

Unfortunately the pace is slow and the story loses momentum in the middle. If you can keep going, though, it's a rewarding read, as its young heroine cuts through the tangle of tall tales around her to reach a tough truth. She is helped by Mrs. Weiss (who lost her own parents in the Holocaust), by an undercover detective and by her two cousins, who have their own problems to deal with. Roberta discovers the value of Mrs. Weiss's advice on the importance of not giving up, as she pulls herself 'out of the void' created by her past.

2nd review by Ricki Marking-Camuto (Rating: 3):

Edward Bloor is not afraid to write realistically for a teenaged audience about difficult themes. Crusader, originally released in 1999, deals very bluntly with hate crimes and the harsh reality some teens face in regards to the adults in their lives. Because Bloor is not afraid to tell it like it is, Crusader instantly grips readers and takes them along for an experience they will not soon forget.

Fifteen-year-old Roberta Ritter has basically been on her own since her mother died seven years ago. She lives with her dad, but he is never home; either he is at the beach on at his girlfriend's apartment. She does see him sometimes at the virtual reality arcade at the mall that he and her uncle own, and at which she, her cousins, and two of her classmates work every day. However, her job is not stable as the arcade is losing money and there is talk about the developer razing the mall to make way for a new golf course.

The two constant supports Roberta does have are her journalism class and her friend, Mrs. Weiss, who owns the Hallmark across the mallway from her arcade. Things get even more difficult for Roberta when a string of hate crimes start at the mall targeting the Arab college student who runs the electronics store and on whom Roberta has a crush. Being a journalist, Roberta decides to investigate these crimes. In the process, she learns more about her mother's death and discovers that many of the adults in her life whom she trusted are not all that they seem.

Aside from being honest with his teenaged readers, Bloor also has a knack for storytelling that keeps readers engaged. While the physical descriptions of characters are few and interspersed throughout the narrative, Bloor does such a wonderful job of showing their personalities that they are easy to picture. Also Roberta, the protagonist, is not the only character to change over the course of the few months that Crusader covers. Many of the teenage characters learn something about themselves and others, creating an empathy from the readers for not just Roberta but her cousins and friends as well. In the end, it turns out that it is the younger generation that is not afraid to face reality, while their parents and other adults would prefer to live in a world of their own making, much like the games that the arcade offers.

Bloor does an excellent job of avoiding pussy-footing around the topic of racism, but never resorts to preaching his views on the subject - a tactic that many young adults appreciate. Roberta talks openly about how some of the virtual reality experiences at her arcade are geared towards players who want to whomp on members of a specific race (and must be hidden from customers of those races) while letting the reader draw their own conclusions as to whether these games are bad or not. Crusader is an honest novel about racism and growing up that will grip readers from start to finish. Bloor has a writing style that holds on and will not let go. I highly recommend this book.

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