While not fully absorbing, Nesbet’s detail-rich novel offers tenacious readers an interesting window into the fall of the...

CLOUD AND WALLFISH

A sudden adventure to East Germany changes Noah’s life forever—literally, as he assumes a new name and family history.

Swooped up by his parents after school one day, fifth-grade stutterer Noah must dump his backpack on the way to the airport and learn his “real” name and history so that his mother can take a sudden opportunity to conduct research in East Berlin. The white American boy becomes “Jonah” and experiences the world behind the Iron Curtain in 1989 with the help of a new German friend, Claudia, also white. Nesbet (The Wrinkled Crown, 2015, etc.) ventures from fantasy into a new genre and unpacks her story slowly, sometimes ponderously, by inserting “secret files” from an omniscient narrator who explains much of the context required to appreciate the history in the fiction. There is intrigue involving the reported death of Claudia’s parents and Noah’s suspicions about his own mother’s story, but the suspense and character development are bogged down by slow pacing. Noah’s stutter effectively portrays him as the misunderstood outsider, but his photographic memory becomes purely plot device as Nesbet unravels a belatedly thrilling ending. Her author’s note reveals the personal history behind the novel, suggesting a labor of love that does show in the carefully crafted details and effective scene-setting.

While not fully absorbing, Nesbet’s detail-rich novel offers tenacious readers an interesting window into the fall of the Iron Curtain. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-7636-8803-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

MAPPING THE BONES

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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Readers who don’t need endings tied up with tight little bows will find much to think about here.

INFINITE SKY

Tragedy emerges from the commonplace miseries of everyday life in this evocative mood piece.

Thirteen-year-old Iris lives with her dad and older brother, Sam, in rural England. Until recently, Iris and Sam had a mum as well, but she’s taken off to Tunisia on a mission to find herself. Now Sam’s associating with ruffians, Dad’s taken to drinking, and Iris is avoiding her best friend, unable to bear the smug pity. When a few caravans of Irish “travelers” squat illegally in Dad’s paddock, Iris sees the possibility of something fresh and untainted in her life. But Dad and Sam loathe the travelers, calling them “Gypsies,” “parasites” and worse. Iris strikes up a friendship—and maybe more?—with 14-year-old Trick, but her father becomes increasingly erratic as he sees his control over his family slipping away. Her Dad repeatedly threatens eviction, and Iris must decide whom to believe in the face of petty crime. A senseless act of violence leads to heavily foreshadowed tragedy. This brief, gloomy debut concludes tidily though with an unclear trajectory: After a summer’s adventure, everyone’s right where they started yet nothing’s the same, mirroring the intransigence of hate.

Readers who don’t need endings tied up with tight little bows will find much to think about here. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4814-0658-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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