THE GHOST CHILDREN

After their mother dies, Matt, 13, and his sister Abby, 5, come to live with their great-aunt Gerda in a canyon near Los Angeles, bringing little except a portfolio of their mother's paintings. In front of Aunt Gerda's ramshackle house are spooky, life-sized figures of children—made for Aunt Gerda by her deceased husband—dressed in real clothes, swaying in the wind. Apparently because they are alarmed by the way Aunt Gerda treats the "dolls" like real children, local people are harassing her, hoping to get her to move. Matt tries to discover who has sent anonymous hate notes and vandalized the dolls; to help out financially, he also tries to sell his mother's paintings, and in doing so discovers the dealer who has stolen two of the figures. Amazingly, a patron appears to declare the figures folk art of great value and to relieve the family of financial worries—without depriving Aunt Gerda of her beloved children. Matt and Abby are believable, their concern for one another both funny and touching. Unfortunately, however, the story's resolution is pat and implausible; and the title here is misleading, since the dolls are not ghostlike enough to create much suspense. For a more intelligent fictional use of senior-citizen-created junk that proves to be valuable as art, see Levin's The Trouble with Gramary (1988).

Pub Date: April 17, 1989

ISBN: 0618604774

Page Count: 163

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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An extraordinary and timely piece of writing.

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HARBOR ME

Just before she begins seventh grade, Haley tells the story of the previous school year, when she and five other students from an experimental classroom were brought together.

Each has been bullied or teased about their difficulties in school, and several face real challenges at home. Haley is biracial and cared for by her white uncle due to the death of her African-American mother and her white father’s incarceration. Esteban, of Dominican heritage, is coping with his father’s detention by ICE and the possible fracturing of his family. It is also a time when Amari learns from his dad that he can no longer play with toy guns because he is a boy of color. This reveals the divide between them and their white classmate, Ashton. “It’s not fair that you’re a boy and Ashton’s a boy and he can do something you can’t do anymore. That’s not freedom,” Haley says. They support one another, something Haley needs as she prepares for her father’s return from prison and her uncle’s decision to move away. Woodson delivers a powerful tale of community and mutual growth. The bond they develop is palpable. Haley’s recorder is both an important plot element and a metaphor for the power of voice and story. The characters ring true as they discuss issues both personal and global. This story, told with exquisite language and clarity of narrative, is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

An extraordinary and timely piece of writing. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25252-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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