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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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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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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