A well-written, thoughtful portrayal of surviving hard times during World War II.

THE STORKS CAME BACK

A BOY GROWS UP IN DENMARK UNDER NAZI OCCUPATION

A boy and his family withstand the Nazi occupation of Denmark in this YA novel.

Morten Mors, 8, is worried in early 1940, but it’s not because of Denmark’s recent invasion by Germany. Morten’s dear, loyal Great Dane is at the end of her life and must be euthanized. Before long, though, Morten acquires a fox terrier puppy he names Snap. (Dog lovers: Snap will be fine; another dog is injured but OK.) As Morten tries to lead a normal life over the next few years—playing with his best friend, Bodil, training Snap—he discovers that members of his family are involved in the Resistance. They sometimes host fugitives; Inger, Morten’s older sister, works as a bicycle courier. Morten is made to promise he’ll serve only as a lookout, but he longs to fully contribute. In 1943, the underground network takes Bodil and her mother, who is Jewish, to safety, leaving Morten lonely. It’s a further blow when his father is rounded up with other Danish policemen and sent to a Nazi prison camp. The Mors house is commandeered by Germans, and Morten, his mother, and sister go to Jutland, near the North Sea, to live with his uncle and his wife. Meanwhile, the Resistance strengthens, and Morten discovers a way he can help that will test his courage and resourcefulness. Kamminga (The Sun Road, 2014) writes a well-observed story of a less-explored World War II experience: occupied Denmark. Unlike other, more harrowing accounts of children in hiding or in concentration camps, this tale focuses on Morten’s adaptability to changing circumstances and the Danish-ness of his life: for example, the king, on his daily ride, exchanges greetings as between equals with the postman. Kamminga makes the story’s episodes—learning about the procedures of the Resistance and sabotage, how to make arrows from elderberry whips, dog training—both interesting in themselves and contributory toward the boy’s coming-of-age. The book is also balanced; the chief bully in Morten’s life is a Jewish boy, and the Germans aren’t cartoon villains.

A well-written, thoughtful portrayal of surviving hard times during World War II.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5255-1157-8

Page Count: 180

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2017

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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