PANTHER IN THE BASEMENT

A wonderful short novel from the increasingly acclaimed Israeli author. This time, Oz (Don't Call It Night, 1996, etc.) offers the first-person narrative of an imaginative and intelligent 12-year- old boy nicknamed Proffy (short for ``Professor''), living just outside Jerusalem in 1947, the final year of the British ``mandate'' (occupation). Determined to grow up to fight for his people's independence, Proffy joins two comrades in forming a make- believe underground resistance movement he calls FOD (``Freedom or Death''). He imagines himself a ``panther in the basement,'' silently crouching and biding his time awaiting an opportunity to ``pounce on'' the hated British. But while out one night beyond curfew, Proffy is apprehended by the unprepossessing Sergeant Dunlop, a clumsy British policeman who turns out to be sympathetic toward Jews and deeply enamored of their culture. He and Proffy meet secretly in a local cafe, exchanging Hebrew and English lessons, and bringing Proffy to a paradoxical reevaluation of himself as ``a young Hebrew Underground fighter, whose life is devoted to driving out the foreign oppressor, but whose soul is bound up with his. . . .'' This amazingly compact novel features several vivid supporting characters (including Proffy's severe scholarly father and forthright mother, his judgmental friends Ben Hur and Chita, and Ben Hur's grownup sister Yardena, a woman wise beyond her years) and such marvelous set-pieces as Proffy's long rhapsodic description of the books in his father's study, and a moving climactic moment of understanding between father and son on the eve of the formation of the state of Israel. Oz expertly blends together an ingenious allegory of the Israeli resistance movement, a shimmering portrait of life in postwar Jerusalem and environs, and an unforgettable characterization of its sentient young hero- -who's thoroughly believable both as a confused preadolescent and as the mature writer looking backward on his, and his country's, youth from the vantage point of middle age. Another triumph, and further evidence of Oz's increasing claim to serious Nobel Prize consideration.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-100287-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1997

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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