This story’s as sweet as Della’s daddy’s watermelons but never saccharine.

WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW

Della painfully learns she can’t fix her schizophrenic mother, but maybe the 12-year-old can heal herself.

It’s bad enough that her daddy’s watermelons, the sweetest in all of North Carolina, are in jeopardy because of disease and drought, now Della’s mama is acting “crazy” again, hearing voices that warn her to keep germs away from Della and her baby sister, Mylie. The preteen knows that her mother’s schizophrenia surfaced when she was born and blames herself for her mother’s condition. Della’s also heard stories, passed down through her small town, about the miraculous powers of the honey from Miss Tabitha‘s backyard hives. Della makes it her mission to cure her mama and is certain Miss Tabitha’s honey will do the trick. Her first-person narration is realistically earthy without crossing into gritty. The math-loving girl witnesses some of her mother’s breakdowns and assumes most of Mylie’s care, but she’s still very much a child, not yet ready for the boys and kissing she hears come with seventh grade. As her mother’s health fades, Della finds she has other strong women in her life, including Miss Lorena, who’s experienced her own tragic loss. As Della accepts that her mother will always be sick (though never “crazy” anymore, and the text makes the term’s harmfulness quite clear throughout), Miss Tabitha’s honey does work, giving this spunky girl the resilience to overcome hardship. This debut novel gushes with Southern charm and depicts a warm, compassionate community where white families like Della’s and Miss Tabitha’s live amicably alongside black families like Miss Lorena’s.

This story’s as sweet as Della’s daddy’s watermelons but never saccharine. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-266586-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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