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If you were only going to have one birthday as a teen-ager, you could do a lot worse than to have the one enjoyed by the heroine of Leap Day.
Josie Taylor was born on Feb. 29 and has spun around the sun 16 times when she has her “fourth” birthday. It is an unusually eventful day—what with her chance to take the driver’s license test, the high school auditions for Romeo and Juliet, the sophomore scavenger hunt and a late-night, lakeside ritual that apparently comes to every 16-year-old in the part of Orlando where Josie lives. All this means that Leap Year reads as fast as a flume ride at Disney World—a place that gives the book a juicy dollop of local color. It’s got edge than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but readers may well find it as entertaining.
More than that, they will find it sweetly wise. Author Wendy Mass alternates chapters told in Josie’s first-person voice with ones that tell some of the same events from the points of view of other characters. Most of the other characters are Josie’s family and friends, but there are bit players, too. The effect is to dilute the typical espresso-intense self-absorption of teens with the milk of human understanding. In the very populated world of Leap Day, every heart has its reasons. To read this one is to feel inoculated against judgmental attitudes.
One caveat: This book is only six years old, and parts of it feel nearly prehistoric. Josie’s photography class includes darkroom work, and this is an America devoid of restricted driver’s licenses. (Josie chauffeurs a borrowed van full of friends within hours of barely passing her test; the Candlepicker's knuckles were white before she even turned the key in the ignition.) Authors can tell you that’s hard to write a plot in a cell-phone world where missed connections are a thing of the past. This book generates enormous sympathy for anyone who dares to write anything specific about high school, whose milieu that seems to change with the speed of light.