MOONPIE AND IVY

The twin challenges of loving and being loved form the theme of another Southern gem from the author of Me and Rupert Goody (1999). Twelve-year-old Pearl has spent her life moving from one place to another with her feckless mother, Ruby, who seems more interested in her boyfriend-of-the-moment than her daughter. At the novel's opening, Pearl finds herself uprooted once more, but with one major exception: this time, Ruby has left her with her aunt, Ivy, and then disappeared completely. Understandably resentful and unaccustomed to affection wholeheartedly offered, Pearl keeps Ivy at arm's length, and only grudgingly consents to a sort of friendship with Moonpie, the strange boy who lives up the hill with his dying grandmother. Pearl's emotional state is charted in the postcards she writes, but cannot send, to her mother: "Dear Mama, I hate you. Love, Pearl" is succeeded by "Dear Mama, Please come back—but if you can't come right away, that's okay. Love, Pearl." As she begins to relax into her new life, she realizes that she likes stability, but Ivy's love for Moonpie, who is a sort of surrogate son, threatens her fragile security. O'Connor keeps the beautifully simple, colloquial third-person narration filtered tightly through Pearl, so the reader encounters her emotions and her confusion directly. The squalor of poverty is rendered without sentimentality, but the honesty and universality of the characters' emotions inform the real story. The novel's shrewd observations of the tangles of human relationships allow no easy happy endings: Ruby's reappearance at the end interrupts Pearl's slow realization that she can love and, more importantly, is worth loving. But she has learned to hope, and that is no small thing for her—and the reader—to carry away. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 7, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-35059-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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