A beautifully told, textbook example of cultural appropriation.


Aisulu, 12, rescues an orphaned golden eagle nestling; what she does with it will determine her family’s future.

Her extended family belongs to Western Mongolia’s ethnic minority population of nomadic, Muslim Kazakhs who herd horses, yaks, and goats, moving upland in summer and lowland in winter. When Aisulu’s brother, Serik, breaks his leg chasing an eagle, their parents take him to a distant clinic. Horrified when their uncle Dulat kills the eagle, Aisulu rescues its surviving eaglet, naming it Toktar. Guided by Dulat and his Tuvan wife, she raises and trains Toktar to hunt. Weeks later, Aisulu’s father returns with grim news: Serik has cancer; they must sell their herd to pay for his treatment. Dulat sees another option: entering Aisulu and Toktar in the Eagle Festival competition. An ESPN crew filming it will pay the winner enough to cover Serik’s treatment. Readers will root for Aisulu and her community, an ancient culture negotiating the contemporary world. However, Aisulu’s story is insufficiently contextualized. In 2014, Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, competed and won at the festival, depicted in a 2016 documentary, The Eagle Huntress, well-reviewed and nominated for an Academy Award but also persuasively criticized for falsely claiming, so as to magnify her achievement, that women are barred from eagle hunting. The existence of women eagle hunters is briefly acknowledged here, but Aisulu’s activities provoke damaging, misogynistic bias, expression of which reinforces Western misconceptions and misrepresents reality.

A beautifully told, textbook example of cultural appropriation. (glossary) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-55746-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new...

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How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.

Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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