A richly rewarding look at an era.


A Depression-era novel is defined by the hard-edged beauty of its rural Southern setting. 

When 14-year-old Halley’s father dies, in 1936, her mother capitulates to the demands of her own father, a strict Southern Baptist preacher, that the family move back home. Pa and Ma Franklin live in a farmhouse much like the one Halley leaves, only without the soft comforts—chief among them her brother Robbie’s piano—Daddy had provided. Halley’s a tough pragmatist, but she resents giving up her dream of attending high school to care for her aging grandmother. She even more strongly chafes at the fact that her mother must become a mill hand and turn her weekly pay packet over to Pa Franklin. Halley’s growing sense of self and her mother’s journey from grief to independence evolve slowly, changing like the seasons on the farm; the plot moves unhurriedly but with determination to the satisfying end. That Gibbons knows this hardscrabble world to the bone shows in every precise detail of chamber pot, buttermilk and cow-safe fencing.

A richly rewarding look at an era. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-58838-290-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: NewSouth

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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A strong sense of place and an appealing protagonist cannot overcome outdated stereotypes of Indigenous people.


In pre–World War I Australia, 12-year-old Savannah Dawson wants to be a whaler like her father.

She knows whaling is in her blood, however, as a girl, she is stuck as a cook’s helper. Given the chance, she would gladly follow in her father’s footsteps even though that is how both her brothers lost their lives. Her mother has also passed away, and her absence is palpable. Through her new friend, Figgie, an Indigenous boy whose real name is Calagun—Savannah renames him after an ineffectual attempt to pronounce it—she learns about Indigenous beliefs positioning orcas as the guardians of the Earth and the need to live in harmony with nature. As she comprehends the balance between whaling and the beasts of the deep, she has increasingly cryptic dreams. Meanwhile, industrialization is encroaching thanks to wealthy American investor Jacob Bittermen, who wants to introduce factory processes to whaling. Savannah, who is White by default, is a well-developed, three-dimensional character who starts off only caring about her own goals but grows through her friendships. Whaling terms and Australian slang add atmosphere and pull readers deeper into the colorful world. Unfortunately, the Indigenous characters feed into tropes of mystical guides. Figgie is not as well rounded as Savannah; his actions support her journey of self-discovery, but apart from that, he does not appear to have a purpose in the story.

A strong sense of place and an appealing protagonist cannot overcome outdated stereotypes of Indigenous people. (list of abbreviations, glossary) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: July 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64603-070-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Fitzroy Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Although Janie’s narration loses some of its charm and humor as the adventure escalates, its blend of history, culture and...


Following the paths of Neil Gaiman, Julia Alvarez and Carl Hiaasen, bestselling author Meloy (Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, 2009, etc.) takes a successful plunge into middle-grade fiction.

Before the House Committee on Un-American Activities can interrogate Janie Scott’s Hollywood writing-team parents for being possible Communists, they move to London. “I was no witty, patient, adaptable Jane Austen,” the 14-year-old admits as she recalls helping to save the world in 1952. While palling around with Benjamin Burrows, who’d rather be a spy than follow in the apothecary family tradition, Janie becomes entangled with Cold War espionage after Benjamin’s father mysteriously disappears, leaving behind a secret 700-year-old book of magic elixirs. As the teens, joined by pickpocket Pip (seemingly plucked out of Great Expectations), search for the apothecary (truly an alchemist), they must also outrun their dreamy Latin teacher (who could be a double agent), rescue a kidnapped Chinese chemist and work with other scientists from around the world to thwart the Soviet’s detonation of an atomic bomb 20 times more powerful than Hiroshima’s, all while testing out some of the elixirs along the way.

Although Janie’s narration loses some of its charm and humor as the adventure escalates, its blend of history, culture and the anxiety of the time with magical “science” will keep readers just as spellbound as the characters. (art not seen) (Historical fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25627-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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