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Novels for teens. Facing up to real-world concerns

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Shadows on the Pond, by Alison Cragin Herzig. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 244 pp. $12.95. On the Edge, by Gillian Cross. New York: Holiday House. 170 pp. $10.95. The Moonlight Man, by Paula Fox. New York: Bradbury Press. 179 pp. $12.95. Terrorism. Alcoholism. Divorce. It's the summer of 1986, and these are topics of concern to many kids today -- kids who are being thrust into an adult world at an increasingly early age. In fact, a literature has sprung up specifically designed to help children negotiate the thorny patches of adulthood. As three recent novels demonstrate, juvenile realism can deal effectively with serious topics when it avoids a kind of adolescent voyeurism, and should especially appeal to kids facing problems at home, at school, on the streets.

Shadows on the Pond, by Alison Cragin Herzig, exemplifies the best of juvenile realism. It's an absorbing story, the kind that, as a teen-ager, I would have curled up with happily for an afternoon -- the kind that, as an adult, I did curl up with happily for an afternoon. It takes place during summertime in Vermont, and eighth-grade Jill's parents are going through a strained period in their marriage. Jill is happy to be back with her mother at the family summer home and reunited with her best friend, Migan, but her happiness is dampened by the absence of her father, who has remained in New York City with Jill's ballerina sister, Kate. And what's worse, Jill and Migan find that their secret hideout, a beaver pond, has been discovered by a poacher named Jeep intent on turning beaver pelts into cash.

With the help of Jill's friend Ryan, the girls plot to save the beavers. Herzig relieves the suspense with funny dialogue and comic situations, achieving just the right balance between the underlying tension of Jill's anguish over her parents' separation and the unfolding events.

And who says there are no happy endings? Jill and Ryan discover a growing affection for each other, and Herzig captures the giddy feeling of innocent first love perfectly.

In Gillian Cross's On the Edge, terrorists disrupt a peaceful English summer. For 13-year-old Tug Shakespeare, a journalist's son, being kidnapped is only the beginning of a nightmare. Imprisoned in a rented cottage in Derbyshire, Tug undergoes psychological battering at the hands of a couple of mixed-up revolutionaries, members of an outfit called ``Free People'' who have vague plans to topple the bourgeois family structure.

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