by Josh Koppel
(Perennial/Melcher Media) $14.95

With the same color, size, and weight as a block of cheese, visual artist Josh Koppel's book might seem precious at first glance, but the stories inside hold real power. Each page is like a haunting little postcard with simple phrases that move into the next, deftly building these biographical tales into dazzling home movies full of childhood melancholy and love. Imagine Jenny Holzer using her art to tell revealing coming-of-age tales instead of socio-political slogans, and you're somewhere close to Koppel's territory.

There are six quick tales here, and although they take less than an hour to read, you may find yourself thinking about them for a long time after. The first story, "Dan," painfully tells of a childhood nemesis who is killed in a ski accident. With each sentence, the story transforms into beautiful, simple poetry: "I followed Dan down the mountain./ And he hit a tree./The snow exploded and slowly drifted down over where he lay." That's followed by "Some Girls," a retelling of the author's discovery of pornography. Koppel then throws a brilliant curve ball with "Theo," a sweet tribute to his little brother. It's such an unexpected turn in the book that it may have you reaching for a hanky. "Svelte" starts like a similar tribute to his grandfather, but turns into a meditation on forgiveness.

Koppel's images throughout are simple and understated with a nostalgic taste, but it's the stories, and his way of presenting them, that make this book something special. The author's website also shows off this talent: KEVIN SAMPSELL

by Adam Cadre
(HarperCollins Publishing) $25

Like many people, I have a real love/hate relationship with my high-school experience. So it was only natural that as I began reading the book Ready, Okay! by first-time novelist Adam Cadre, I started asking myself why anyone would want to relive those four long years. The answer? Because this time you get to experience those years as a 16-year-old smartass who is dealing with the death of both his parents, and with psychotic, anti-social, or self-absorbed siblings. Cadre writes the characters in this book with astonishing, mnemonic accuracy. Who didn't know the cheerleader with the hidden drug problems, the so-called tough girl with the secret life... or even the jock who constantly talked about his penis as a third person? And he does so in a believable and enjoyable manner (Cadre's writing, I mean, not the penis-obsessed jock). The narrative character, Allen Mockery, allows you to live his life as he sees it--an often surprisingly comedic view for a life as tragic as it is. Although the end takes some unsurprising turns, Ready, Okay! is still worth reading if you're a fan of dramatic coming-of-age novels. MEGAN SELING


by Brad Gooch
(Outlook Press) $24.95

"You're nurtured by pain. It's your dark sunshine," Mark tells Zombie, the title character of Brad Gooch's new novel, before goading him into a fight he has no chance of escaping unscathed. Zombie accepts the beating anyway because he has decided Mark is his master. ZOMBIE00 means to be The Story of O told by a teenage boy, but it doesn't achieve that kind of disquieting resonance. The deadpan narrative voice employed by Gooch is suitable for a kid called Zombie, but without much to say, it quickly becomes a drone.

After visiting a museum exhibit featuring a voodoo chamber and a mummy, the narrator has a quasi-religious experience and decides he's a zombie meant to serve. He is soon another boy's slave; following him around, letting him flick cigarette ashes in his mouth. Zombie falls under the thrall of various masters across the course of his self-described "zombification," leading him to petty crimes and exile in New York.

While desire has always been Gooch's underlying theme, here he takes the longing to its extreme. Zombie wants nothing more than to follow and serve, but we get no deeper sense of it than that. Like Sean Devlin, the protagonist of Gooch's last novel, The Golden Age of Promiscuity, ZOMBIE00's narrator acts as a plot device more than a genuine presence. But Sean Devlin had the verisimilitude of '70s New York to play against. ZOMBIE00 takes us to New York and Haiti, but we're moving in place. Unlike Dennis Cooper's blank boys, Zombie lacks the dramatic chiaroscuro and pitch-black humor to captivate. ZOMBIE00's living dead are transgressive lite. Who knew domination and submission could be so boring? NATE LIPPENS