ALONG THE RIVER

A CHINESE CINDERELLA NOVEL

The success of Mah’s memoirs (Falling Leaves, 1997, for adults and Chinese Cinderella, 1999, for kids) led to her well-received novel Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society (2005) and historical overview China: Land of Dragons and Emperors (2008). Here, she tries to combine them all, blithely and unwisely stepping beyond her literary capabilities. Readers initially meet CC (the character from the previous novel) on what seems to be a mission in World War II China. Chased, she falls and enters a coma. A doctor hypnotizes her, and readers shift to the Song dynasty and CC’s previous life in a star-crossed romance, observing the scene in the famous painting Along the River at the Qing Ming Festival. Both setting and emotional tension rely heavily on cliché and exclamation points. The author abuses dialogue to cram in historical details (a visitor exclaiming “Good tea!” is treated to an encyclopedic definiton of white tea). It is unclear what story she is trying to tell: the romance? the story of the painting? the bookend of CC’s coma, which will be inexplicable to readers unfamiliar with the previous novel? As none succeed, the question may go unanswered. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-73895-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2010

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Fluid prose elucidates a life much stranger than fiction.

PROMISE THE NIGHT

MacColl's second novel brings to life the childhood of future aviator and writer Beryl Markham (Prisoners in the Palace, 2010).

Born Beryl Clutterbuck, she moved with her family to the highlands of Kenya as a toddler. Not long after, her mother and brother returned to England, abandoning her with her rough though loving father. MacColl's account begins when a leopard steals into Beryl's hut and attacks her dog—the child leaping from her bed to give chase. Though she loses the leopard in the night, the next morning, she and her new friend, a Nandi boy, Kibii, find the dog still alive and save it. Later she insists on being part of the hunt for the leopard. Young Beryl wants nothing more than to be a warrior, a murani, and to be able to leap higher than her own head. Her jumping skills progress apace, but young white girls, no matter how determined, cannot become part of the Nandi tribe. Her relationship with Kibii's father, the wise Arap Maina, along with a growing awareness of the consequences of her actions, help lead her into a more mature—though still wildly impulsive and daring—life. MacColl intersperses her third-person narrative with faux news reports and first-person diary entries of two decades later, when Beryl Markham became the first person—let alone woman—to fly a plane west from Europe to America.

Fluid prose elucidates a life much stranger than fiction. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8118-7625-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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A cancer story that struggles to evoke either laughter or tears

THE BEST MEDICINE

This Irish import’s 12-year-old narrator laughs to keep from crying.

Aspiring to become a professional comedian, Philip Wright enjoys entertaining his single mother and biggest fan, Kathy, while daily attempting to capture the attention of his art-class crush, “dark-haired goddess” Lucy Wells. When Kathy bursts into tears and locks herself in the bathroom after one of his jokes, Philip thinks he’s lost his touch. Prodded by her best friend, Kathy finally tells Philip that she has breast cancer that will require surgery, chemo, and radiation. Philip is initially enraged at how much this news will affect his world, never mind the impossibility of saying “breast” to his friends and teachers. When he finally faces the reality that he could lose his mom, Philip starts behaving like she matters. This novel has a rather slow beginning, with humor that feels too calculated to succeed, including an extended lisping riff, making fun of his Spanish best friend’s name (Angel, which Philip shortens to “Ang”), and the occasional reference to poo. The author also fails to explain how this family suffers no economic hardships while its only breadwinner cannot work. Nevertheless, middle-grade readers will identify with Philip’s conflicts with his best friend and his antics to win Lucy’s affections. Ang aside, the primary characters all appear to be Irish; absence of racial cues indicates that the default is white.

A cancer story that struggles to evoke either laughter or tears . (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55451-880-7

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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