Hard to take but ultimately hopeful.

ONCE YOU KNOW THIS

Fifth-grader Brittany Kowalski looks for Plan B.

Home life is complicated for Brittany’s family, living in her mother’s abusive boyfriend’s house on Chicago’s struggling West Side. Her great-grandmother has all but disappeared into dementia. There’s hardly enough money for food for a growing 11-year-old and her baby brother, so her mother hasn’t been eating much. The brutish Jack appears and disappears, is bitingly critical, hits her mother, but won’t allow her to work. Blejwas sets her moving account of Brittany’s search for a better life in the depressing weather of late fall and early winter. Her first-person narrative doesn’t dwell on the abuse but on the details of living in poverty, such as taking the bus across town to get the makings of Thanksgiving dinner from a church food pantry. It’s cold in their apartment; people get sick; her great-grandmother dies. A bright (and warm) spot is school, where Mr. McInnis, an eager first-year teacher, pushes his mostly uncaring students and encourages them to imagine their futures. When frustrated by school rules, he looks for Plan B, providing a model. Brittany’s family is white; other major characters reflect the diversity of a big northern city. Sadly, some readers may know Brittany’s world well, others will find it surprising; all will appreciate the way Brittany’s actions propel the resolution.

Hard to take but ultimately hopeful. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5247-0097-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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