The ghost of a young Confederate soldier plays therapist to an angry 21st-century teen. It’s been three years since his mother walked out on him and his father, but 13-year-old Alexander still hopes for her return—and blames his father bitterly for her departure. So when his father packs the two of them up for a weeklong vacation in North Carolina to visit an attractive widow he met at a conference, Alexander moves into high resentment gear, especially when he meets her dinosaur-loving son and equally resentful older daughter. The only thing that distracts him from his anger is the ghost he meets while touring a Civil War battlefield. The long-dead Rich’s obsession concerns his sister: did she make it to safety before General Sherman’s troops overran the family farm? Through Rich, Alexander learns a bit about history (this history dwells on the undeniable valor of the Southern troops and the brutality of their Northern opponents, but skims very lightly over the slavery issue) and a little more about family dynamics: “Your mother left for her own reasons, not because of you.” While it’s a little unclear how this dead 19th-century teenager could have such a firm grasp of soothing 21st-century bromides, it is certain that over the course of their search for evidence of Rich’s sister’s survival, Alexander learns to accept his mother’s departure and his father’s desire to move on. Alphin (Counterfeit Son, 2000, etc.) handles the moments when Alexander moves into the ghostly world with flair and atmosphere, but the outcomes of both Rich’s quest and Alexander’s inward journey are entirely predictable. A serviceable but not essential offering. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8050-6158-4

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin. The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyle’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice. Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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It’s 1949, and 13-year-old Francine Green lives in “the land of ‘Sit down, Francine’ and ‘Be quiet, Francine’ ” at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles. When she meets Sophie Bowman and her father, she’s encouraged to think about issues in the news: the atomic bomb, peace, communism and blacklisting. This is not a story about the McCarthy era so much as one about how one girl—who has been trained to be quiet and obedient by her school, family, church and culture—learns to speak up for herself. Cushman offers a fine sense of the times with such cultural references as President Truman, Hopalong Cassidy, Montgomery Clift, Lucky Strike, “duck and cover” and the Iron Curtain. The dialogue is sharp, carrying a good part of this story of friends and foes, guilt and courage—a story that ought to send readers off to find out more about McCarthy, his witch-hunt and the First Amendment. Though not a happily-ever-after tale, it dramatizes how one person can stand up to unfairness, be it in front of Senate hearings or in the classroom. (author’s note) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-50455-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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