A simple story with surprising depth in its examination of truth and compassion.

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THE SECRETS OF TREE TAYLOR

In Mackall’s first-person coming-of-age narrative, an aspiring young writer wrestles with the difference between facts and many-layered truths, learning the role of compassion in deciding which secrets need to be shared and which are not hers to tell.

Tree Taylor has two goals during the summer after eighth grade: write an article that will win her the freshman spot on her high school’s newspaper and taste her first kiss. When she witnesses her neighbor holding a rifle, her husband shot, Tree thinks she has her story. As she investigates, she uncovers a long history not only of domestic abuse, but also of coverups—even by her pillar-of-the-community father, the local doctor. Tree struggles as she discovers webs of secrets in her family and community. Where is the truth? Tree is an appealing, naïve 13 (“Somebody swore—the ‘d’ word for the structure that keeps water back”); indeed, the whole book has an old-fashioned feel, harking back to simpler times when teenagers gladly went to the drive-in with their families. Small-town Missouri in 1963 is nicely captured in many references to current events, music and movies. Quotations from famous authors are scattered throughout, reflecting Tree’s focus on writing. Tree’s godlike father is too reminiscent of Atticus Finch to altogether succeed, though; his moralizing and invoking God become sermonic.

A simple story with surprising depth in its examination of truth and compassion. (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-86897-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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A tale driven by its informational purpose, with only a short story’s worth of plot.

LOST CAUSE

From the Seven (The Series) series

Posthumous messages and tantalizing clues send a teenager from Canada to Barcelona in search of a hidden chapter from his beloved grandfather’s past.

One of a septet of simultaneously published novels, all by different authors and featuring cousins who are each left a mission or task in their shared grandfather’s will, this takes Steve to Spain, where he discovers that his elder relative was a member of the International Brigades. He is guided by his grandfather’s old journal and also by Laia, an attractive young resident of the city who lectures him on the Spanish Civil War while taking him to several local memorial sites. Steve slowly gains insight into how it felt to believe passionately in a cause—even, in this case, a doomed one—and then to lose that innocent certainty in the blood and shock of war. The storyline is, though, at best only thin glue for a series of infodumps, and readers will get a stronger, more specific view of that conflict’s drama and course from William Loren Katz’s Lincoln Brigade: A Pictorial History (1989).

A tale driven by its informational purpose, with only a short story’s worth of plot. (map and family tree, not seen) (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55469-944-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Not for the fainthearted but likely to appeal to disaster fans.

CITY OF THE DEAD

From the Horrors of History series

A quick-paced novel about one of the worst disasters in American history.

The 1900 Galveston hurricane killed more than 8,000 people (about 1 in 6 residents) and destroyed more than 3,600 houses. This short novel, the first in the Horrors of History series, opens with a prologue in which a reporter watches men digging up dead bodies after the storm and finding those of nine children and a nun tied in a line with clothesline. It then follows the experiences of six characters: five based on real people and an entirely fictional one, an African-American named Charlie. Three are boys from a waterfront orphanage run by nuns. One is a doctor who usually enjoys powerful storms and whose workman, Charlie, struggles against the elements on his way home. Another, a young schoolteacher, harbors neighbors whose houses are destroyed, only to fear her apartment won’t stay standing. Character development and nuance take a back seat to dialogue and action that moves quickly from one imperiled character to another. Gruesome details abound, especially after the storm ends and survivors see the corpses and destruction. Such a high-appeal topic could draw in even reluctant readers, although they may have trouble keeping track of all the characters. Scattered black-and-white historic photographs and two maps remind readers just how real the story is.

Not for the fainthearted but likely to appeal to disaster fans. (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-58089-514-9

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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