Richard Uhlig,
Last Dance at the Frosty Queen
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)

Fictional Harker City, Kansas, 1988. Just about everything that could bore Arty Flood, 18, is wrapped up in the dusty roads and familiarity of the town's "1700 smiling faces." He's counting on the $1,400 from his last job to get far, far way from town and head for Wichita as soon as he can.

That's his plan, anyway. What could go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out, in this funny and touching first novel by Richard Uhlig. This young-adult story sketches the everyday turmoil that lies beneath the small-town calm, where nothing is as it seems and Arty's life is a tangle of hormonal overdrive, frustration and family dysfunction.

One day, improbable as it seems, Arty meets the strange Lucia in a most unusual way and everything changes, including his plan. There is still a lot of complication in Arty's life, especially with his girlfriend Geraldine. And there's his relationship with the English teacher, who he comes to believe is "my only ticket out."

Last Dance at the Frosty Queen is written in a fast, first-person style that captures the confusion and uncertainty of life in a too-small town. There's some steamy sex and lots of salty language, too. Although the author never says as much, he obviously draws on his own small-town experience for much of the book's precise details. He seems to have had a lot of fun in the telling, too.

Does Arty get out before all his entanglements overwhelm him? Or, deep down, does he want to stay in Harker City for the rest of his life? These are similar to the big questions that everyone faces sooner or later. Arty makes some grown-up choices in this realistic, well-written story, and becomes an adult in the process.

review by
Mark Bromberg

19 April 2008

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