``I have an incredible knack of doing the wrong thing all the time although I am always trying hard to do the right thing,'' confesses the 13-year-old hero of this exceptional Swedish novel, the basis of a recent film (and of inevitable comparisons with Catcher in the Rye ). It is 1959, and Ingemaar's mother has died after a protracted illness. His seaman father absent, the boy's siblings are yet again dispatched to separate destinations, and Ingemaar himself is packed off to an uncle for a second and perhaps indefinite stay. Armed only with his awe-inspiring imagination and desperately good intentions, Ingemaar tries all at once to conquer his grief, satisfy his curiosity about sex (and other aspects of adulthood) and reorder his fractured existence. But his efforts beget new forms of chaos--objects are lost or destroyed, skylights are crashed through, fires started, sexual experiments ruinously interrupted. Jonsson's candor matches his tender poetics as he maps the uncertain land where the comic and tragic meet. (June)
Gr 7 Up--Time magazine called the Swedish movie of the same title ``the most popular foreign-language film in the U. S.'' Now, three years later, we have an English-language translation of the novel that inspired the movie, and while it is unlikely to replicate the film's popularity, it is every bit as engagingly quirky and idiosyncratic. The story it tells of 13-year-old Ingemar Johansson's coming of age in the late 1950s is much the same, too--seemingly unloved by his dying mother, the boy is sent off to live with his hapless uncle in remote Smaland, where he encounters the same engagingly eccentric cast of characters who peopled the film. There the similarities end, however, for the tone of the book is much darker than that of the film, and the emotional (and sexual) development of Ingemar--who tells his story in his own unsparing first-person voice--is much more richly realized. That Ingemar survives both his own emotional starvation and personal rejection is evidence of the sheer doggedness of the human spirit. Not a children's book at all, My Life as a Dog 's crossover potential as a YA novel is unfortunately compromised by a clumsy translation. Despite this, the book remains intrinsically a meritorious, powerful novel that should be considered for purchase for the sake of the special readership it will attract. --Michael Cart, Beverly Hills Pub . Lib .