SMILING FOR STRANGERS

Exhibiting a shrewdness born from desperation, a fourteenyearold girl makes the hazardous journey from the wartorn countryside outside of Sarajevo to the safety of England. Knowing the war might soon force them to flee their rustic hideaway, Nina and her grandfather sleep on the back veranda with their bags packed. This part of the book is vividly rendered and crammed with extraordinary details that beautifully illuminate their daytoday struggle. For example, Nina's grandfather scatters objects along the path to their hideout so that visitors will make enough noise stumbling to alert them to possible danger. But, the story loses steam at its heart, when Nina has to escape the country, hoping for sanctuary from a friend of her now-deceased mother in Sussex, England. Her grandfather advises her to join an aid convoy that is being turned back, obtaining help by choosing a person whom she thinks `will say yes` to her plea for assistance, then asking that person nicely for help. Flashing `her most brilliant, grownup smile,` Nina is helped and hindered by various people with perplexing and ambiguous agendas. She finally makes it to Sussex and is taken in by her mother's friend, but the situation between them is rife with misunderstandings. It's impossible not to feel sympathy for this poor child who has been through so much, and Hicyilmaz (The Frozen Waterfall, 1994, pointer) renders her situation with a welcome complexity. Yet, the flesh and blood Nina remains emotionally out of reach, inhibiting the reader from making a true connection. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 24, 2000

ISBN: 0-374-37081-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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WHEN EAGLES FALL

Thirteen-year-old Alexis has been “banished” (her word) by her mother, who lives in San Diego, to International Falls, Minnesota, where her father is the foremost authority on the bald eagle. He heads a small team who are banding eaglets and researching the eagles’ habitat. Alexis is immediately involved and learns quickly, though it’s difficult work and complicated further by the swarms of mosquitoes and hot weather. She resents her father’s authority and the team’s respect for him. In spite of this, she becomes fascinated with the birds and rashly decides to remove a fish lure from an eagle’s nest situated on a nearby island. Though successful in climbing the tree, she lifts an eaglet out of the nest and drops it. Then she loses the paddle to the canoe and finds herself stranded on an island with an injured eaglet. For two days she struggles with a storm, a visiting bear, and hunger. She manages to feed the eaglet and herself through fashioning a crude fishing rod. She finds shelter: an abandoned house on the island obviously not used for years. Surprisingly, it is a bat refuge, full of bat dung, with hundreds of bats returning in the evening. Knowing the eaglet must have assistance, in desperation, she sets the house on fire and is rescued. Throughout these difficulties, she finally allows herself to think of her little brother, who has recently died from cancer. Working through her grief, she realizes her father’s actions, which she so resented at the time, were a result of a grief as deep as her own. The ending is a bit pat, with the eagle flown to a healing center and her parents beginning to talk to each other. The tale moves along well and will be enjoyed particularly by readers of survivalist stories. The author’s note describes her hands-on research with eagle experts and includes several Web sites where naturalists can learn more. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7868-0665-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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NEVER CRY ``ARP!''

Stories about the author's childhood adventures growing up in a small town, including one in which a delinquent dog tangles with a skunk, and two in which eminently satisfying tricks are played on pompous bullies. Others involve youthful disasters, accident-prone friends, eccentric townsfolk, camp-outs, and crazy schemes. McManus is a sort of Dave Barry for kids. His stories are not merely amusing: They are laugh-out-loud, stomach-clutching, tears-rolling-down-your-cheeks hilarious. Factual or not, the names of people display a backwoods Dickensian humor, from Rancid Crabtree, the old woodsman, to a friend, Retch Sweeney, and his two kid brothers, Erful and Verman, and to Miss Goosehart, a teacher at Delmore Blight Grade School. The humor is often broad, but its expression is matter-of-fact; McManus writes for those with good vocabularies who can read between the lines. Really comic stories that also treat this audience with intelligence are something of a rarity; this collection is as welcome as lemonade in the desert. (Short stories. 10-12)

Pub Date: May 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8050-4662-3

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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