Klass (Screen Test, 1997, etc.) has woven a captivating first-person narrative with an original voice. John is convinced that no one knows him. Not his kind-of-friends, not the teachers in his "anti-school" ("School is for learning and this place is for being stupid"), and certainly not his mother, who just might marry this boyfriend, the one that beats him when she isn't looking. John's piercingly funny narrative describes his days in his torturous algebra class ("I hear nothing. The sound waves part before they get to me and re-form when they have passed me by. Algebra does not have the power to penetrate my feverish isolation"), his okay music class ("To my surprise, the giant frog who is pretending to be my tuba suddenly comes very much to life"), a disastrous date with the much-sought-after Gloria ("Glory Hallelujah"), and the nightmare of being left alone with his soon-to-be stepfather while his mother is away. His humor stems from boredom, intense loneliness, and fear, and his story keeps the reader both howling with laughter and petrified. His narrative has a consistently narrow view, taking the reader through his twisted thoughts and emotions, while letting enough trickle through so that readers can see more than he does. Thankfully, of course, someone does know John, and steps up to save him. His mother (to whom the narrative is addressed) is never quite fleshed out as a character. Perhaps this is because John feels so keenly ignored by her, yet it makes her entrance at the end feel thin. Nevertheless, this is an engrossing story, in the vein of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (1999), to which readers will immediately connect. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-38706-0

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Namioka (Den of the White Fox, 1997, etc.) offers readers a glimpse of the ritual of foot-binding, and a surprising heroine whose life is determined by her rejection of that ritual. Ailin is spirited—her family thinks uncontrollable—even at age five, in her family’s compound in China in 1911, she doesn’t want to have her feet bound, especially after Second Sister shows Ailin her own bound feet and tells her how much it hurts. Ailin can see already how bound feet will restrict her movements, and prevent her from running and playing. Her father takes the revolutionary step of permitting her to leave her feet alone, even though the family of Ailin’s betrothed then breaks off the engagement. Ailin goes to the missionary school and learns English; when her father dies and her uncle cuts off funds for tuition, she leaves her family to become a nanny for an American missionary couple’s children. She learns all the daily household chores that were done by servants in her own home, and finds herself, painfully, cut off from her own culture and separate from the Americans. At 16, she decides to go with the missionaries when they return to San Francisco, where she meets and marries another Chinese immigrant who starts his own restaurant. The metaphor of things bound and unbound is a ribbon winding through this vivid narrative; the story moves swiftly, while Ailin is a brave and engaging heroine whose difficult choices reflect her time and her gender. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-385-32666-1

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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