Glenn, Mel. Split Image. Harper Teen, 2002. ISBN 978-0060004811 160 pp. $
Her father sees her as a little girl, her brother sees her as a servant, her mother sees her as the fruition of her own hopes and dreams for a perfect Chinese American daughter, and her classmates and teachers see her alternately as a virgin, a nympho, a boyfriend stealer, standoffish, warmhearted, perfect, and popular. Can all these things be part of just one person? They can; “People see who or what they want anyway,” says Laura Li in this story in poems about identity, perception, and reality.
Glenn’s writing is brilliant. He has a powerful grasp on language, and so many words have double meanings. Metaphors of photography are subtle. Friends act as chemicals; as the perception of Laura Li is filtered through the views of her acquantainences like a photo in developer, a picture emerges of a girl who struggles with her family, her culture, and her peers. When she takes a job in the school library, Laura seems to become confidant to all, but she doesn’t go to anyone but Doc with the burden of her problems.
In spite of such serious subjects as prejudice, parent-child interactions, suspected pregnancy, and suicide, there is humor in this book. Glenn plays with words, creating puns and concrete poetry. Like Laura herself, the book contains many facets that work together to create a portrait of a troubled young woman.
The characters are vividly drawn in a few words, and the librarian will have colleagues cheering. Especially amusing are a list of misunderstood book titles (Death by a Salesman, Raisin Eaten by a Son) and the euphamism of checking out books for dating (Can I take you out? / Can I put you on hold? / Can I put a reserve on you / What do you mean, / you “don’t circulate?”).
The cover art, an orange frame that exposes the reader to a partial image of an Asian face, is appropriate, but could have been made as innovative as the text. The title, too, could have been improved upon; split implies “two” and Laura had many sides. The small size is perfect, a tad smaller than Glenn’s other books. This may not be a book that will leap off the shelves, but place it in the hands of reluctant readers and poetry fans, and it will be a hit. An excellent addition to YA collections in school or public libraries.