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Veteran middle-grade novelist Pryor (Thomas in Danger, 1999, etc.) offers another sturdy, appealing entry in her growing series of historical novels set in 18th- and 19th-century America. Luke: 1849—On the Golden Trail (not reviewed) brought the young protagonist from his Iowa home “back East” to Boston. This new, fast-paced tale transports Luke from his uncle Eli’s home in Boston and around the Horn on a swift Yankee Clipper Ship, en route to the California gold fields. Adult readers will probably find the plot a bit creaky: facile friendships between Luke and Toby (the son of Uncle Eli’s former slave housekeeper Miss Maisie) and the orphaned cabin “boy” (who’s really a girl in disguise), a conniving thief who conspires to hijack the ship, a mysterious letter (written in code) with directions to a secret California gold mine. However, the plot is leavened by the budding romance between Uncle Eli and the ship’s perky Irish cook (Colleen) and further spiced with horrendous ocean storms, icebergs, pirates, and a chillingly authentic shark attack on the wounded Uncle Eli. Pryor is adept at such time-honored pot-boiler techniques like ambiguous yet intriguing chapter headings, cliffhanger chapter endings, and the well-placed (though sometimes ham-handed) foreshadowing of future plot twists. The five page afterword “More About . . .” provides historical context and expands on the situations and events in the novel. This is certainly not The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1990) but no matter: it will keep ’em engaged—and reading. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: June 30, 2000

ISBN: 0-688-17134-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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From the Plot to Kill Hitler series , Vol. 1

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Near the end of World War II, two kids join their parents in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

Max, 12, lives with his parents and his older sister in a Berlin that’s under constant air bombardment. During one such raid, a mortally wounded man stumbles into the white German family’s home and gasps out his last wish: “The Führer must die.” With this nighttime visitation, Max and Gerta discover their parents have been part of a resistance cell, and the siblings want in. They meet a colorful band of upper-class types who seem almost too whimsical to be serious. Despite her charming levity, Prussian aristocrat and cell leader Frau Becker is grimly aware of the stakes. She enlists Max and Gerta as couriers who sneak forged identification papers to Jews in hiding. Max and Gerta are merely (and realistically) cogs in the adults’ plans, but there’s plenty of room for their own heroism. They escape capture, rescue each other when they’re caught out during an air raid, and willingly put themselves repeatedly at risk to catch a spy. The fictional plotters—based on a mix of several real anti-Hitler resistance cells—are portrayed with a genuine humor, giving them the space to feel alive even in such a slim volume.

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-35902-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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The bird’s-eye view into this pivotal moment provides a powerful story, one that adults will applaud—but between the...

The ugly brutality of the Jim Crow South is recounted in dulcet, poetic tones, creating a harsh and fascinating blend.

Fact and fiction pair in the story of Rose Lee Carter, 13, as she copes with life in a racially divided world. It splits wide open when a 14-year-old boy from Chicago named Emmett Till goes missing. Jackson superbly blends the history into her narrative. The suffocating heat, oppression, and despair African-Americans experienced in 1955 Mississippi resonate. And the author effectively creates a protagonist with plenty of suffering all her own. Practically abandoned by her mother, Rose Lee is reviled in her own home for the darkness of her brown skin. The author ably captures the fear and dread of each day and excels when she shows the peril of blacks trying to assert their right to vote in the South, likely a foreign concept to today’s kids. Where the book fails, however, is in its overuse of descriptors and dialect and the near-sociopathic zeal of Rose Lee's grandmother Ma Pearl and her lighter-skinned cousin Queen. Ma Pearl is an emotionally remote tyrant who seems to derive glee from crushing Rose Lee's spirits. And Queen is so glib and self-centered she's almost a cartoon.

The bird’s-eye view into this pivotal moment provides a powerful story, one that adults will applaud—but between the avalanche of old-South homilies and Rose Lee’s relentlessly hopeless struggle, it may be a hard sell for younger readers. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-78510-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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