"My life was going, going, gone, and I hadn't been laid yet. I couldn't go into the slammer before that happened." Hutch McQueen.
Sixteen-year-old Hutchinson McQueen is trapped in a dysfunctional family. Shackled by poor vision and poor reading skills, he squeaks through classes with his talent for eavesdropping and memorizing what he hears. After another suspension from school and suffering through one of his mother’s violent attacks, he escapes to a friend’s house that turns out to be a meth lab. The lab is raided and Hutch lands in juvenile detention. When the court sentences him to six months in a new juvenile program, he meets a teacher with Alzheimer’s who will change his life and hers.
Here's the thing about Lee's books - you care about the characters right away. And she starts DN with Hutch being in the principal's office, again, on the 1st page. So right away you know that he's got problems. And those continue through much of the book. I think we all like redemption stories, but they have to feel realistic. You have to care about the protagonists right away and be rooting for them, but it needs to take most of the book before he or she gets there. That's definitely the case in DN.
It's also really important to have the supporting cast matter. In this case, there's Hutch's friend and fellow student Nyla. There's Father Kerry, former bad boy turned priest. There's Heather, Father Kerry's friend and (probably) ex-lover, and her mother, Maggie, who is showing beginning signs of Alzheimer's but who teaches Hutch some valuable lessons. And let's not forget Hutch's mom, Dee Dee, who has a habit of just up and leaving Hutch alone for days on end. Or his father, who tries his best but is just not cut out for single parenting (a tough assignment for anybody, I would guess). There are more. I don't think it's that easy to bring in a whole bunch of disparate characters and make them matter - without any of them overwhelming the main (anti-)hero or heroine. Lee does this masterfully. My tear-o-meter definitely responded to many of them.
I also have to say that although I connected with Hutch right away, I didn't know for quite awhile whether or not I liked him. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Did it color my enjoyment of the book? Maybe a little. Hard to say. But I do know that it didn't prevent me from tearing up on pages 106, 116, 120, 123, 125, 135, and 136, among others. So I guess I emotionally connected to Hutch more than I thought. Maybe I need to do some reevaluating. Hmm, I'll think about that.
Whether you're a crier or not, Double Negative is certainly worth reading. And while you're at it, if you haven't done this already, pick up Lee's The Princess of Las Pulgas and Sliding on the Edge. You won't be sorry that you read any of these 3 YA novels.