WHEN JFK WAS MY FATHER

A believable look at life in boarding school in the 1960s, made surreal by the narrator’s fantasy that she is John F. Kennedy’s daughter, and her conversations with the school’s long-dead founder. Right before they separate, Georgia’s mother and father take her on vacation to a resort not far from their home in Rio de Janeiro. Georgia, shy and confused, meets Tim, a sensitive boy who shares her interest in stamps and whose parents are just as screwed-up as hers are. Their idyll is short-lived; soon Georgia’s father is in Rio with his girlfriend, her mother settles into Washington, D.C., and Georgia is off to Connecticut, to the only boarding school that will take her. As she retreats more and more into a fantasy that her real father is JFK, Georgia has trouble finding friends, doesn’t like her teachers, and ends up with a terrible report card. In her head she talks to Mrs. Beard, the down-to-earth founder of the school, deceased but apparently still able to help Georgia out of a jam. Tim makes a reappearance; he’s run away from a nearby boy’s school, but now he seems more peculiar than poetic. He wants Georgia to run away with him, but she, learning of the uproar at the school in the early hours of her disappearance and reeling from the news that JFK has been assassinated, decides that the students and teachers are her real family and refuge. Gordon’s title and the premise offer more to adults than young readers, who won’t understand the romantic hold JFK had on the country; Georgia’s fantasy never rises above the level of a silly conceit. Aspects of the setting, both in Brazil and Connecticut, are powerfully realized, as is Mrs. Beard: even dead and without a ghostly form, she may be the most compelling character on the scene. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-395-91364-0

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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RAMONA'S WORLD

Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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