Well, this is awkward. Nancy Rommelmann, award-winning local journalist whose nonfiction hits hard on overlooked issues, has penned her first novel, The Bad Mother. Rommelmann is a hardworking, shoe-leather reporter whose breakout into fiction I would love to applaud.

But the book is downright bad.

The Bad Mother follows the lives of a crew of homeless teenagers who scrape for a living from the streets of Los Angeles. Mary is 14 and knocked up by a no-good boyfriend; Roach is a sweet kid who digs up dollars however he can; Sofia whores herself out for money to buy diapers, drugs, and food. All three squat in an LA loft with friends who are equally abandoned by parents and society. Rommelmann, an LA-transplant herself, has a compassionate eye for these kids and her details evoke the clear image of a car-clogged, sun-scorched city, where just another needy teenager can easily fall through the cracks.

Though the subject matter is certainly worthwhile, The Bad Mother reads like a soppy Lifetime movie script. The prose drips with trite descriptions that hit the reader over the head again and again with a moral sledgehammer.

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The slim book begins with a graphic description of Mary glumly sucking her boyfriend's disease-scabbed dick, and there is no respite for the next 144 pages; the characters become humorless, two-dimensional tragedies. Sample line: "Mary blinked. Roach watched the sun spark off her dark blue cracked crystal eyes. Doll's eyes."

The Bad Mother is the first offering from a tiny Silicon Valley-based literary press, Dymaxicon, which is run by Rommelmann's sister-in-law. Both have great potential for future fiction—skip this book and wait for Rommelmann's second. SARAH MIRK

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