A Southern tale of faith and doubt. In a matter of months, 12-year-old Esta Lea receives a calling to preach and then is anointed with a healing gift. In the same moment that Esta Lea becomes a healer, her rapscallion uncle, Peter Earl, is saved, and in what seems like no time at all, Peter Earl is taking Esta Lea and her angel-voiced sister, Sarah Louise, on a revival tour through nearby communities. This naturally leads to several comic situations in churches with names like Lukewarm No More, as well as Esta Lea’s growing conviction that Peter Earl is not so much saved as he is personally interested in the offerings generated at the revival meetings. While Esta Lea’s faith in her own messages from God is unassailable, she does wonder why He has chosen such an imperfect vessel, but as she tells her friend Sky, “God can use a person who ain’t perfect. God told me that if He could use a donkey, He could use me.” The revival tour begins to take over the narrative, to the point that subplots are abandoned: Sky’s own faith in the face of her father’s brutality is mentioned as an aside and the ambitious, outwardly-yearning Sarah Louise’s elopement with a college boy is practically parenthetical. Newcomer Clinton has a good ear for language, but this offering needs some work. For a more cohesive and well-developed exploration of faith in the South, go back to Han Nolan’s Send Me Down a Miracle (1996). (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-1387-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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The poem/novel ends with only a trace of hope; there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality.


Billie Jo tells of her life in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl: Her mother dies after a gruesome accident caused by her father's leaving a bucket of kerosene near the stove; Billie Jo is partially responsible—fully responsible in the eyes of the community—and sustains injuries that seem to bring to a halt her dreams of playing the piano.

Finding a way through her grief is not made easier by her taciturn father, who went on a drinking binge while Billie Joe's mother, not yet dead, begged for water. Told in free-verse poetry of dated entries that span the winter of 1934 to the winter of 1935, this is an unremittingly bleak portrait of one corner of Depression-era life. In Billie Jo, the only character who comes to life, Hesse (The Music of Dolphins, 1996, etc.) presents a hale and determined heroine who confronts unrelenting misery and begins to transcend it.

The poem/novel ends with only a trace of hope; there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 978-0-590-36080-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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Curtis debuts with a ten-year-old's lively account of his teenaged brother's ups and downs. Ken tries to make brother Byron out to be a real juvenile delinquent, but he comes across as more of a comic figure: getting stuck to the car when he kisses his image in a frozen side mirror, terrorized by his mother when she catches him playing with matches in the bathroom, earning a shaved head by coming home with a conk. In between, he defends Ken from a bully and buries a bird he kills by accident. Nonetheless, his parents decide that only a long stay with tough Grandma Sands will turn him around, so they all motor from Michigan to Alabama, arriving in time to witness the infamous September bombing of a Sunday school. Ken is funny and intelligent, but he gives readers a clearer sense of Byron's character than his own and seems strangely unaffected by his isolation and harassment (for his odd look—he has a lazy eye—and high reading level) at school. Curtis tries to shoehorn in more characters and subplots than the story will comfortably bear—as do many first novelists—but he creates a well-knit family and a narrator with a distinct, believable voice. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-32175-9

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1995

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