PUNCH WITH JUDY

In a dark tale like the verso of one of Sid Fleischman's comic adventures of traveling performers, Avi explores the idea that great clowns derive power from a profound sense of the tragic. Impresario Joe McSneed has died, leaving Mrs. McSneed, an acrobat who imagines herself to be "The King of Tipperary's Widow"; her daughter Judy, 15, now in charge; a dispirited crew of other performers; and dogsbody Punch, 12, taken in by McSneed in hope that his barely glimpsed talent might blossom. But now the group's performances are devoid of humor, a lack intensified by their loss, and they're outraged when Punch and his beloved pig inadvertently provoke the kind of laughter Judy now suggests may restore their fortunes. She's proved right; but before most of the men desert, Judy betrays Punch's timid affection by marrying another, and the group is hounded by a grim sheriff trying to take him in custody as an orphan. He agrees to let Punch go free if the group can make him laugh, which they manage to do with a live Punch-and-Judy show—in which Punch nearly dies when Judy's slap-stick begins to deliver blows that are all too real. Midway, one character clearly outlines the varieties of humor, but, curiously, despite a cast and setting proclaiming farce, there's little here. Rather, it's a touching but somber tale, enlivened by idiosyncratic characters and pungent descriptions, of an undervalued, overly modest boy finding his talent and his true friends. Lisker's incisively sketched figures lighten the format. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 30, 1993

ISBN: 0380729806

Page Count: 168

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin. The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyle’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice. Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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ASK ME NO QUESTIONS

Illegal immigrant sisters learn a lot about themselves when their family faces deportation in this compelling contemporary drama. Immigrants from Bangladesh, Nadira, her older sister Aisha and their parents live in New York City with expired visas. Fourteen-year-old Nadira describes herself as “the slow-wit second-born” who follows Aisha, the family star who’s on track for class valedictorian and a top-rate college. Everything changes when post-9/11 government crack-downs on Muslim immigrants push the family to seek asylum in Canada where they are turned away at the border and their father is arrested by U.S. immigration. The sisters return to New York living in constant fear of detection and trying to pretend everything is normal. As months pass, Aisha falls apart while Nadira uses her head in “a right way” to save her father and her family. Nadira’s need for acceptance by her family neatly parallels the family’s desire for acceptance in their adopted country. A perceptive peek into the lives of foreigners on the fringe. (endnote) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-4169-0351-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Ginee Seo/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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