by Allison Whittenberg

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $15.99, 192 pages

Meet Wendy Anderson. Intelligent, caring and honest. Since her mother’s death, Wendy’s dad has become overbearing and protective. Now, meet Hakiam Powell, a rough-and-tumble young man who leaves his family and moves to Philadelphia for a fresh start. Once Hakiam walks into the tutoring center and lays eyes on Wendy, their paths are destined to intersect.

Both are searching for the same thing: love, acceptance and understanding. The only problem: the street address for Hakiam and Wendy place them worlds apart, even in the City of Brotherly Love. Can the two teens bridge the widening racial gap in African-American culture? Tutored by Allison Whittenberg presents a classic Romeo and Juliet storyline with a twist: both main characters are African-American.

What makes this novel work? True-to-life dialogue that’s smart and actually sounds like a young adult adds a strong element of realism. The obstacles presented are real and important discussion points worth addressing, no matter what cultural background. Short chapters, told from alternate points of view, offer insight into character’s thoughts and actions.

Unfortunately, what doesn’t work outweighs the positive impact established by the book’s theme. Billed as an edgy romance, I never felt chemistry between the two main characters. The bad boy/good girl storyline isn’t sophisticated. At times, it seems forced. While this is a speedy read, not all readers may feel an empathetic connection.

Reviewed by LuAnn Schindler