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Children's Bookshelf

THE IMPACT ZONE by Ray Maloney (Delacorte: $14.95; 246 pp.; age 12 up).

August 03, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

It's a typical scene along California's coast: the parked car full of wet suits and wax, boards on top, a guy leaning over the steering wheel to scope the waves. The Beach Boys immortalized surfing in their songs, and now Ray Maloney shares an even closer look with "The Impact Zone," winner of the third annual Delacorte Press Prize for an Outstanding First Young Adult Novel.

You'll like Jim Nichols, the 15-year-old narrator who lives in Ventura with his mom and stepdad, Larry. As with most kids his age, Jim is full of dreams and conflicts. He fantasizes about sex and wishes he wasn't so tongue-tied around girls. He wishes he could spend more time with his father, a famous surfing photographer with a gypsy life style. He wishes Larry wasn't such a stuffed shirt.

After a humiliating injustice, Jim runs away on his bike, south along Pacific Coast Highway toward L.A. International Airport, where he plans to catch the first plane to Hawaii. He's deterred by a major landslide in Malibu and then in Honolulu by a child prostitute. When he realizes that "nothing works like it does in the movies" and how easily plans can fall apart, it's a cold surprise. Lost innocence is bittersweet but exciting against the backdrop of the Banzai Pipeline. The author reveals some of his best writing as he describes the ocean, its power and beauty. Anyone who's surfed knows the thrill of riding a wave so steep that it's "just like stepping into an empty elevator shaft." Pray you'll never wipe out on a reef where it's like smashing "into a brick wall covered with broken glass. . . . " That's no jive.

My favorite is Bill Nichols, Jim's 38-year-old dad, who travels the globe with his board and underwater camera, sometimes living out of his VW van. " . . . You keep what's important and eliminate all the useless possessions that just clutter up your life." But he also tells Jim that finding your dream doesn't really matter; "It's the search that counts." They swim together, they talk, they even hug, showing a love free from macho barriers.

Much attention is given to landmarks, the stoplights and bends in the roads, which is fun if you're familiar with Southern California and Oahu but might seem tedious to non-locals. But that's a minor quibble. Maloney proves to have a special talent and a sensitivity that bears watching.

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