Reza’s story is compelling, but the simplistic depiction of secondary characters as good Muslims and bad Muslims turns a...

LOST BOYS

In Rosenblatt’s ambitious debut novel, Reza, a 12-year-old Iranian boy, clings to friendship and his love of music as the Iran-Iraq War tears his world apart.

Reza’s father has died in the war, and Reza’s mother, who follows the Great Leader without thinking, would be proud if he suffered the same fate. At school, a mullah comes to recruit boys, enticing them with the promise of riches and beautiful women in the afterlife if they die in the war. When tragedy strikes his family again, taking the life of his only supportive relative, Reza decides to follow his best friend and enlist. After a horrifying battle scene, Reza ends up in a prisoner-of-war camp, where he befriends boys who have abandoned faith in the war and in Islam, as he has, and clashes with the judgmental bully who remains pro-revolution and continues practicing Islam. The characterization of Muslims tends to conflate religious faith with violence, sympathetic characters rejecting both while most evil characters embrace both. The notable exception to this rule dies early in the story; although Reza returns to Islam toward the end, it is too late to counteract this simplistic tendency. The Irish foreign-aid worker who teaches at the camp is the most well-developed secondary character, perhaps not surprising, since the author’s main source consists of an aid worker’s accounts. Absent from the source notes are written accounts by Iranians who lived through the war, which may have helped breathe life into the Iranian characters as well.

Reza’s story is compelling, but the simplistic depiction of secondary characters as good Muslims and bad Muslims turns a complicated historical subject into a setting that reinforces stereotypes many Westerners hold. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62779-758-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American...

DUST OF EDEN

Crystal-clear prose poems paint a heart-rending picture of 13-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa’s journey from Seattle to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

This vividly wrought story of displacement, told from Mina’s first-person perspective, begins as it did for so many Japanese-Americans: with the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor. The backlash of her Seattle community is instantaneous (“Jap, Jap, Jap, the word bounces / around the walls of the hall”), and Mina chronicles its effects on her family with a heavy heart. “I am an American, I scream / in my head, but my mouth is stuffed / with rocks; my body is a stone, like the statue / of a little Buddha Grandpa prays to.” When Roosevelt decrees that West Coast Japanese-Americans are to be imprisoned in inland camps, the Tagawas board up their house, leaving the cat, Grandpa’s roses and Mina’s best friend behind. Following the Tagawas from Washington’s Puyallup Assembly Center to Idaho’s Minidoka Relocation Center (near the titular town of Eden), the narrative continues in poems and letters. In them, injustices such as endless camp lines sit alongside even larger ones, such as the government’s asking interned young men, including Mina’s brother, to fight for America.

An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American internment. (historical note) (Verse/historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8075-1739-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Chilling, difficult, and definitely not for readers without a solid understanding of the Holocaust despite the relatively...

THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

A young boy grows up in Adolf Hitler’s mountain home in Austria.

Seven-year-old Pierrot Fischer and his frail French mother live in Paris. His German father, a bitter ex-soldier, returned to Germany and died there. Pierrot’s best friend is Anshel Bronstein, a deaf Jewish boy. After his mother dies, he lives in an orphanage, until his aunt Beatrix sends for him to join her at the Berghof mountain retreat in Austria, where she is housekeeper for Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. It is here that he becomes ever more enthralled with Hitler and grows up, proudly wearing the uniform of the Hitler Youth, treating others with great disdain, basking in his self-importance, and then committing a terrible act of betrayal against his aunt. He witnesses vicious acts against Jews, and he hears firsthand of plans for extermination camps. Yet at war’s end he maintains that he was only a child and didn’t really understand. An epilogue has him returning to Paris, where he finds Anshel and begins a kind of catharsis. Boyne includes real Nazi leaders and historical details in his relentless depiction of Pierrot’s inevitable corruption and self-delusion. As with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2006), readers both need to know what Pierrot disingenuously doesn’t and are expected to accept his extreme naiveté, his total lack of awareness and comprehension in spite of what is right in front of him.

Chilling, difficult, and definitely not for readers without a solid understanding of the Holocaust despite the relatively simple reading level. (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-030-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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