SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT

Ten-year-old Jamie Jo never leaves home without her mama and her flyswatter. After watching a fictional movie character die from an allergic reaction, this daughter of a prosecutor and tone-deaf choir member fears bees, although she’s not allergic herself. Her life in rural Kentucky revolves around church, but she questions her faith when her mother is bullied out of the choir. However, it is restored when a damaging explosion before choir practice harms no one, as her absent mother had been its only punctual member. (In an author’s note, Payne explains that the strictly timed explosion was inspired by true events.) Jamie Jo demonstrates gradual growth in her small adventures with a new friend and her dog. Secondary characters are realistically flawed and memorable. While the quirky moments excel, Jamie Jo’s naïveté is unrealistic, even considering her sheltered upbringing. Conflicts are too neatly resolved, the voice meanders and didactic dialogue stunts this debut novel. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5344-8

Page Count: 167

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2008

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A powerful blend of important themes and everyday triumphs and sorrows.

HOW TO FIND WHAT YOU'RE NOT LOOKING FOR

It’s 1967, and Ariel Goldberg’s adored older sister, Leah, has fallen for Raj, an immigrant college student from Bombay.

Their parents disapprove: To them, it’s bad enough that Leah wants to marry someone of a different race, even worse that he isn’t Jewish. After Leah elopes without even a letter to her sister, 11-year-old Ari is forced to reckon with a new understanding of her place within her family as the daughter who is now expected to take on the good-girl role. But that’s not her only problem. Her parents dreamed of a better life, yet they can’t afford to keep their beloved bakery running. Her mother sees Ari’s struggle with dysgraphia as laziness, and as the only Jewish kid in sixth grade, she faces antisemitism that goes unrecognized by her teachers. Her strained relationship with her parents and their beliefs rings heartbreakingly true alongside her struggle to find her own voice through poetry. As she and her best friend set out in secret to find Leah and repair her broken family, Ari must decide what she believes is right in an increasingly tumultuous world. Hiranandani captures with great nuance the details of Ari’s life. Sacrifices in the service of assimilation, the lies we tell the people we love most, and how we go about forgiving them are given specificity in Ari’s matter-of-fact and observant second-person present point of view.

A powerful blend of important themes and everyday triumphs and sorrows. (author's note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-55503-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Kokila

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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Warmhearted cross-cultural friendship for a refugee on distant shores: both necessary and kind.

LETTERS FROM CUBA

In 1938, a Jewish refugee from Poland joins her father in small-town Cuba.

After three years abroad, Papa’s saved only enough money to send for one of his children. Thus Esther boards the steamship alone even though she’s not quite 12. Cuba is a constant surprise: Her father’s an itinerant peddler and not a shopkeeper; they live as the only Jews in a tiny village; and she’s allowed to wear sandals and go bare-legged in the heat. But the island is also a constant joy. Nearly everyone Esther meets is generous beyond their means. She adores her new trade as a dressmaker, selling her creations in Havana to earn money to bring over the rest of the family. In glowing letters to her sister back in Poland, Esther details how she’s learning Spanish through the poems of José Martí. She introduces her sister to her beloved new friends: a White doctor’s wife and her vegetarian, atheist husband; a Black, Santería-following granddaughter of an ex-slave; a Chinese Cuban shopkeeper’s nephew. Esther’s first year in Cuba is marked by the calendar of Jewish holidays, as she wonders if she can be both Cuban and a Jew. As the coming war looms in Europe, she and her friends find solidarity, standing together against local Nazis and strike breakers. An author’s note describes how the story was loosely inspired by the author’s own family history.

Warmhearted cross-cultural friendship for a refugee on distant shores: both necessary and kind. (bibliography) (Historical fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-51647-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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