England’s Children’s Laureate (Bad Dreams, 2000, etc.) again exercises her unsurpassed gift for memorable, complex character studies. Stolly Oliver lies in a coma, having taken a plunge from an upper story window. At his bedside sit not his often-absent parents (though they’re on their way), but Ian Paramour and his smart, loving, adoptive parents, all three of whom have spent so much time caring for Stolly over the years that he’s as much a member of their family as his own. More than half convinced that Stolly jumped, Ian works out his anger by reflecting on their life together: his mix of fearlessness and stark vulnerability; the ghastly, wildly inventive horror stories Stolly could make up at the drop of a hat; the left turns his logic often took; his refusal to hide feelings, or to stop challenging authority; his array of little foibles—as Ian puts it, his teachers “all said he had a great future ahead of him, if he could stay alive and learn to tie his laces.” With brilliant use of the telling phrase or between-the-lines insight, often delivered with masterful, side-splitting comic timing, Fine brings not just Stolly but every character here to life, and gives them all redeeming qualities—even Stolly’s jet-set, fashion-designer mother, though she comes in for lengthy, merciless lampooning. By the time Stolly wakes up, little the worse for wear (beyond a few broken bones), the author has brought readers so close to him and to those who love him that the question of whether he fell by accident or not has become, not irrelevant, but unimportant. It’s a triumphant portrait of a young person marching to a beat all his own—but not marching alone. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 11, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-73009-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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The poster boy for relentless mischief-makers everywhere, first encountered in No, David! (1998), gives his weary mother a rest by going to school. Naturally, he’s tardy, and that’s but the first in a long string of offenses—“Sit down, David! Keep your hands to yourself! PAY ATTENTION!”—that culminates in an afterschool stint. Children will, of course, recognize every line of the text and every one of David’s moves, and although he doesn’t exhibit the larger- than-life quality that made him a tall-tale anti-hero in his first appearance, his round-headed, gap-toothed enthusiasm is still endearing. For all his disruptive behavior, he shows not a trace of malice, and it’ll be easy for readers to want to encourage his further exploits. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-590-48087-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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