A solid historical novel about the end of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom (106366)—a kind of colorized version of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In the early pages of her first book, Alder takes her most daring step when her hero Evyn gets his tongue cut off and is sold as a slave to the mistress of Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and future kind of England. Evyn learns to read and write; as slave, then squire, and finally as foster son to Harold, he is witness to the hectic final days of the kingdom: Welsh rebellions, a shipwreck in Normandy, the death of King Edward and Harold's ascent to the throne, the defeat of Norway, and the Battle of Hastings. Evyn's role remains mostly peripheral—a spectator rather than a player. The plot sticks to the Chronicle and as a result has something stolid to it—a historical novel with history, not fiction, at the center, filled with heroic stereotypes straight out of the romance legends of the Middle Ages. If the characters are clichÇs, they are not cut out from cardboard, but from a medieval tapestry. Alder is an accomplished stylist; her prose is polished and often inspired. Chapter openings quote the Chronicle, setting a tone of quiet dignity, the language elevated, the syntax slightly archaicthe author has a huge vocabulary, full of period words and Old English in italics. Everything is intricately woven into one unbroken whole; Alder spins a good story, and what she spins best is description. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: May 12, 1995

ISBN: 0-374-34182-6

Page Count: 257

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1995

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When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as “an attempt—a flying jump of an attempt—to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.” When her foster father helps her learn to read and she discovers the power of words, Liesel begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor’s wife’s library. As she becomes a better reader, she becomes a writer, writing a book about her life in such a miserable time. Liesel’s experiences move Death to say, “I am haunted by humans.” How could the human race be “so ugly and so glorious” at the same time? This big, expansive novel is a leisurely working out of fate, of seemingly chance encounters and events that ultimately touch, like dominoes as they collide. The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it’s a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: March 14, 2006

ISBN: 0-375-83100-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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An optimistic, sophisticated portrayal of one facet of Chinese American—and simply American—history.


Jo Kuan leads a double life: a public role as a quiet lady’s maid and a secret one as the voice behind the hottest advice column in 1890 Atlanta.

Chinese American Jo is mostly invisible except for occasional looks of disdain and derisive comments, and she doesn’t mind: Her priority is making sure she and her adoptive father, Chinese immigrant Old Gin, remain safe in their abandoned abolitionists’ hideaway beneath a print shop. But even if she lives on the margins, Jo has opinions of her own which she shares in her newspaper advice column under the byline “Miss Sweetie.” Suddenly all of Atlanta is talking about her ideas, though they don’t know that the witty advice on relationships, millinery, and horse races comes from a Chinese girl. As curiosity about Miss Sweetie mounts, Jo may not be able to stay hidden much longer. And as she learns more about the blurred lines and the hard truths about race in her city and her own past, maybe she doesn’t want to. In her latest work, Lee (The Secret of a Heart Note, 2016, etc.) continues to demonstrate that Chinese people were present—and had a voice—in American history. She deftly weaves historical details with Jo’s personal story of finding a voice and a place for herself in order to create a single, luminous work.

An optimistic, sophisticated portrayal of one facet of Chinese American—and simply American—history. (Historical fiction. 13-18)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4095-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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