Killing Time in Crystal City

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Killing Time in Crystal City Book Poster Image
Gritty tale of teen runaway connecting with homeless kids.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows what life can be like for teen runaways and homeless kids.

Positive Messages

Stresses the importance of facing people whom you love -- and who love you -- to try to work things out.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kiki's a likable misfit, and readers will enjoy his good-hearted bumbling; in one scene, he trips a bad man who's chasing a girl, using his whole body: "I might not be a superhero, but I can fall down like nobody's business," he says. Readers also will like his best friend Jasper, whom they learn about in flashbacks; Jasper gives Kiki a hard time -- and the nickname that he initially hates --  but he's also there when he needs him, including helping him see the flaws in his own thinking.

Violence

Some violence, although not much, is described: Kiki has a broken arm he claims his father is responsible for. A man is stabbed to death after a robbery goes haywire. A man beats up his young girlfriend, who shows up at Kiki's house with a bruised face. A boy intentionally trips a man, who's hurt falling onto the pavement. A boy tries to punch a man in the face.

Sex

A girl offers to have sex with Kiki to pay him back for giving her a place to shower and sleep. Kiki has sex with a young woman and admits to having masturbated. A young man talks to another young man about hooking up with men; later, a young man reveals he thinks he had sex with a male friend while drunk. Young men talk about a girl who sleeps around. Kiki finds porn on his dad's computer and implies his family broke up because of his dad's repeated cheating.

Language

Liberal use of "bastard," "d--k," "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "crap," and more.

Consumerism

A mention of Dunkin' Donuts.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Young characters including Kevin drink and smoke. Characters use both marijuana and cigarettes. Two male friends hook up after a night of drinking rum that one boy's mother gave him.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Chris Lynch's Killing Time in Crystal City is about a teen runaway named Kiki who stays with his criminal uncle but looks for his tribe among homeless kids. It includes some gritty material: Young characters drink and smoke marijuana and cigarettes. Two male friends hook up after a night of drinking rum that one boy's mother gave him. Kiki has a broken arm he claims his father is responsible for. A man is stabbed to death during a robbery. A man beats up his young girlfriend, who shows up at Kiki's house with a bruised face. A girl offers to have sex with Kiki to pay him back for giving her a place to shower and sleep. There's frequent strong language ("bastard," "d--k," "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "crap," and so on), and there are conversations about masturbation, a girl who sleeps around, and men hooking up with men. Kiki finds porn on his dad's computer and implies his family broke up because of his dad's repeated cheating. Ultimately, there is a message here about the importance of facing people whom you love -- and who love you – to try to work things out.

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What's the story?

When readers meet KILLING TIME IN CRYSTAL CITY's protagonist Kevin, he's on the bus to Crystal City. A shy runaway who introduces himself as Kiki, he explains that his dad is responsible for the cast on his arm. In the working-class town, he stays at his mostly absent -- and criminal -- uncle's house, trying to fit in with the homeless young people he hangs out with on Crystal City's so-called beach. He especially wants to spend time with strong Stacey, who looks out for him and other urchins. But, although he may be living without any adult supervision, it's clear that he has a different life and resources than the other kids. This becomes more obvious as flashbacks reveal what actually happened to drive him away from home to begin with -- and what he still needs to face. 

Is it any good?

Kiki's a likable misfit, and readers will enjoy his good-hearted bumbling. (In one scene, he trips a bad man who's chasing a girl, using his whole body: "I might not be a superhero, but I can fall down like nobody's business," he says). Readers also will like his best friend Jasper, whom they learn about in flashbacks; Jasper gives Kiki a hard time -- and the nickname that he initially hates --  but he's also there when Kiki needs him, including helping him see the flaws in his own thinking.

Unfortunately, many of the other secondary characters seem rather two-dimensional, including Stacey -- a tough but golden-hearted girl from the streets who moves on "when I feel like I have saved somebody" -- and Kiki's criminal uncle, who prepares elaborate meals in his clean house but is unflinching about murder. These characters keep readers from investing enough in Kiki's world to really connect with his adventure and understand what he's learning along the way.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about runaway teens. What would you do if you met someone in Kiki's situation?

  • What do you think of the way the protagonist reveals his story, interweaving the past and the present?

  • How does Kiki change by the end? 

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