UNDERWORLD

Simultaneously predictable and far-fetched, this amalgam of adventure, psychological study and horror fails to be either a suspenseful story or a thoughtful examination of young people struggling to overcome difficult challenges. Characters are broadly drawn, as evident from the line-up listed on the back cover: “The bully. The liar. The punk. The prankster. The show-off.” MacPhail’s efforts to humanize her characters are heavy-handed at best. Axel (the bully) turns out to have been abused, while talented, intelligent Zesh (the show-off) suffers from asthma. Plot elements are equally unconvincing. The rationale for these particular students being chosen for a school trip to a remote Scottish island seems contrived, while the reason for the initial cave-in, which traps the five students and their teacher, is never disclosed. The insertion of a second story, told by a German soldier who narrowly survived being trapped in the caves during WWII, seems awkward and artificial. Unlikable characters, unlikely events and an unbelievable monster add up to a story that is unlikely to find an appreciative audience. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-58234-997-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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BURIED ONIONS

Eddie, a young Mexican-American scraping by in the mean streets of Fresno, California, counts four dead relatives and one dead friend in the opening, in-your-face lines of this new novel from Soto (Snapshots from the Wedding, p. 228, etc.). In bleak sentences of whispered beauty, Eddie tells how he dropped out of vocational college and is attempting to get by with odd jobs. His aunt and friends want him to avenge the recent murder of his cousin, but Eddie just wants to find a way out. Everything he tries turns soura stint doing yard work ends when his boss's truck is stolen on Eddie's watchand life is a daily battle for survival. This unrelenting portrait is unsparing in squalid details: The glue sniffers, gangs, bums, casual knifings, filth, and stench are in the forefront of a life without much hope``Laundry wept from the lines, the faded flags of poor, ignorant, unemployable people.'' Soto plays the tale straightthe only sign of a ``happy'' ending is in Eddie's joining the Navy. The result is a sort of Fresno Salaam Bombay without the pockets of humanity that gave the original its charm. A valuable tale, it's one that makes no concessions. (glossary) (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-201333-4

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1997

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