Odd, imperfect and impressive nevertheless, this will appeal to readers who, like Annie and Rew, are a bit beyond their...

ZEBRA FOREST

Gewirtz’s emotionally intense debut novel about the complications of families offers a perceptive heroine and poetic, impressive prose.

In the summer of 1980, 11-year-old Annie and her 9-year-old brother Rew live with their grandmother at the edge of the birch and oak forest they’ve nicknamed “the Zebra,” for its dark and light stripes. Annie shops and pays bills as Gran deteriorates bit by bit, retreating into depression and silence. When the father Annie and Rew believe dead shows up at the door, on the run after a breakout at the nearby state prison, anger, fear and longing envelop the small family. The graceful narrative is articulate and poignant, exploring through Annie’s eyes the complex grief of her family’s story—the mother who abandoned them, the grandfather who died of a broken heart when his son went to prison, the grandmother who takes the children into her own kind of anonymous witness protection program. A few unlikely elements—the nearly complete isolation of the household for weeks, the awkward expository dialogue between a store clerk and a town resident, Annie’s visits to the prison on her own—fade before the strength of the characters and the heartfelt punch of the story.

Odd, imperfect and impressive nevertheless, this will appeal to readers who, like Annie and Rew, are a bit beyond their years. (Historical fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: April 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-6041-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals.

HOW TO SPEAK DOLPHIN

Is dolphin-assisted therapy so beneficial to patients that it’s worth keeping a wild dolphin captive?

Twelve-year-old Lily has lived with her emotionally distant oncologist stepfather and a succession of nannies since her mother died in a car accident two years ago. Nannies leave because of the difficulty of caring for Adam, Lily’s severely autistic 4-year-old half brother. The newest, Suzanne, seems promising, but Lily is tired of feeling like a planet orbiting the sun Adam. When she meets blind Zoe, who will attend the same private middle school as Lily in the fall, Lily’s happy to have a friend. However, Zoe’s take on the plight of the captive dolphin, Nori, used in Adam’s therapy opens Lily’s eyes. She knows she must use her influence over her stepfather, who is consulting on Nori’s treatment for cancer (caused by an oil spill), to free the animal. Lily’s got several fine lines to walk, as she works to hold onto her new friend, convince her stepfather of the rightness of releasing Nori, and do what’s best for Adam. In her newest exploration of animal-human relationships, Rorby’s lonely, mature heroine faces tough but realistic situations. Siblings of children on the spectrum will identify with Lily. If the tale flirts with sentimentality and some of the characters are strident in their views, the whole never feels maudlin or didactic.

Dolphin lovers will appreciate this look at our complicated relationship with these marine mammals. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-67605-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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