CLAY

A powerful novel explores the toll that abduction by a non-custodial parent takes on one girl's identity. Elsie McPhee's narration quickly cues the reader to the oddness of her life. She lives in an anonymous apartment with her brother Tommy, forbidden by her mother to leave the building or to form relationships with anyone. When Elsie disobeys to play with the new neighbors, her mother yanks the family away to yet another anonymous apartment in yet another town. Flashbacks flesh out the story: Elsie is really L.C. (Linda Clay) McGee, and her parents divorced when they disagreed about the appropriateness of seeking help for her slow, unusually withdrawn little brother. For the past four years, since their mother snatched them from a playground, the little family has been on the move, and Elsie/L.C. has suppressed memory of her earlier life. A crisis in Tommy's health and her growing understanding of their mother's fundamental instability prompt Elsie to seek help and turn her mother in. Rodowsky (Spindrift, 2000) avoids an easy ending, continuing the novel past the children's reunion with their father and tackling the difficulties the girl—she renames herself Clay—faces in returning to her former life and coming to grips with her brother's autism. The novel has many of the characteristics of a movie-of-the-week and secondary characters tend toward one-dimensionality, but strong storytelling and the convincing exploration of Clay's confusion as she confronts her tremendous fear of and simultaneous intense love for her mother save it from triteness. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: March 13, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-31338-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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RAMONA'S WORLD

Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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