SILENT TO THE BONE

The small New York town in which Konigsburg offered a View From Saturday (1996, Newbery Medal) is again the setting for a series of rich and subtle studies in friendship and family. It’s framed as a whodunit. Someone dropped baby Nikki, who now lies in the hospital in critical condition. From what Vivian, her au pair, says on the 911 tape and in a later deposition, it was Nikki’s teenaged half-brother Branwell—who can’t defend himself because he’s retreated into utter, seemingly unresponsive silence. Fortunately, Branwell has a stubborn, sharply observant friend in Connor, the narrator, who finds a way to communicate using homemade flash cards and eye blinks, then, at Branwell’s unspoken direction, embarks on a series of fact-finding expeditions. The pieces fall neatly into place as Connor, with his older half-sister Margaret, analyzes new information and interviews potential suspects, from Vivian, as smarmy a minx as ever was, to a pizza deliverer she has been seeing on the sly—who, conveniently, turns out to be a witness requiring little persuasion to tell all. The mystery of Branwell’s mutism remains, however, and Konigsburg handles that with more expertise, revealing how his silence after the incident had roots in his silence about certain earlier events. In the end, Nikki and Branwell make full recoveries and justice catches up with the true culprit. What starts out as an intriguing plot turns predictable, but Konigsburg’s characters and the textures of their relationships are fascinating and worth every minute spent with them. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-83601-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

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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FRAMED IN FIRE

Patneaude (The Last Man’s Reward, 1996, etc.) hatches a silly plot and one-dimensional characters, but preteens might enjoy this piece of escapist entertainment about a boy wrongly committed to a mental asylum. Peter’s weak-willed mother has lied to him all his life about his real father, allegedly dead. Peter doesn’t get along with his stepfather, a car salesman, who schemes to have him committed by a corrupt psychiatrist. In the asylum, Peter befriends two disturbed inmates and a health technician who help him escape. Among the absurd plot concoctions: Peter’s five-year-old half-brother, Lincoln, is psychic, allowing Peter extraordinary access to clues he needs to find his real father; and that his father has been searching for Peter all along. Patneaude resurrects elements from his first novel, Someone Was Watching (1993), in which a supposedly drowned sister has really been kidnapped, and in which a cross-country trip unfolds without much mishap. His writing style, however, is so robust that even if readers find little remotely connected to reality in these pages, there’s more than enough suspense in the fast-paced narrative to keep them entertained. (Fiction. 8-13)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8075-9098-3

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1999

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