“I wonder if there’s a place for my story in your world,” writes Nopi. Stories like this at least help to ensure that there...

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SON OF A GUN

Despite the flip title, a harsh picture of civil war in Liberia as seen through the eyes of two children.

Marked by sudden violence and a pervasive sense of uncertainty, the alternating accounts of Nopi, 10 at the beginning, and her little brother Lucky, take both children through eight years of brutal treatment as the two are snatched out of school by soldiers and forced to fight. Ultimately the two survive, scarred by their experiences (and left deaf from a beating, in Nopi’s case) but perhaps not permanently damaged, and they are joyfully reunited with their parents. De Graaf bases her episodic, present-tense narratives on interviews with Liberian children and adds an informational appendix with photos that not only lays out Liberia’s troubled history (up to 2006, when the original Dutch edition of the book was published) but also includes upbeat drawings and letters from young survivors.

“I wonder if there’s a place for my story in your world,” writes Nopi. Stories like this at least help to ensure that there are. (map, websites) (Historical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5406-3

Page Count: 125

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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Rich and strange of place and premise; suspenseful and thought-provoking.

THE LEFT-HANDED FATE

An ancient inscription and a handful of inscrutable artifacts plunge three young people into both the War of 1812 and a much larger, older conflict.

Opening in Baltimore then moving on to the not-entirely-earthly town of Nagspeake (setting, in another era, of Milford’s Greenglass House, 2014), the tale centers on staid, methodical “natural philosopher” Max Ault; 12-year-old American naval officer Oliver Dexter; and fiery Lucy Bluecrowne, daughter of a renowned British privateer, captain of the titular ship. It pits them against both relentless French pursuers and mysterious men in black with eldritch abilities. The prize is a three-part device made thousands of years ago and said to be able to stop war…a superweapon, or so everyone (nearly everyone) presumes. Along with being replete with rousing chases, races, and violent explosions, the tale is uncommonly rich in memorable characters, from the central three, who all display stout hearts and hidden depths, to Lucy’s 9-year-old half brother, part-Chinese Liao: pacifist, expert lockpick, and fireworks genius extraordinaire. The labyrinthine Nagspeake itself is magical and vivid enough to serve as more than just a setting (and deservedly sports a metafictional website). Wheeler’s neatly turned monochromes capture the tale’s warmth and wonder, though (at least as she depicts it) the cast appears to be white, excepting Liao.

Rich and strange of place and premise; suspenseful and thought-provoking. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9800-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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Tender and thought-provoking but wobbling on a shaky moral compass

THE NINTH DAY

A shy, injured Jewish teen travels from Berkeley’s 1964 student protests to 11th-century Paris, where only she can save a newborn.

Hope, the granddaughter of Blue Thread’s (2012) suffragist heroine, is a lovely singer but has trouble speaking out. She’s shy, for one thing, and ashamed of her stutter. She’s overwhelmed by her pushy older siblings. And finally, she has facial scarring—and occasional acid flashbacks—from injuries sustained when she accidentally downed LSD disguised as candy. At first, she takes it for a flashback when she’s visited by Serakh, a time traveler from biblical times, but Serakh is very real and needs her help. In the year 1099, young Dolcette has just given birth, and her husband, Avram, is convinced a vision has ordered him to kill the child; Serakh is certain Hope will be the child’s salvation. Hope wonders if his visions might come from a similar source as her own flashbacks. Meanwhile, in the modern world, Hope’s self-absorbed and strong-willed siblings threaten to drag her into more trouble than she can handle. As Hope pops between Hanukkahs nearly 900 years apart, she needs to solve her own family crises while navigating modern radical politics and saving a child’s life. A character in the 20th century is rightly condemned (by Hope and the novel) for thinking one can solve other people’s problems by slipping them hallucinogens; unfortunately Hope’s solution to Avram’s problem rests on that very act.

Tender and thought-provoking but wobbling on a shaky moral compass . (Historical fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-932010-65-7

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Ooligan Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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