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)