THE KITE RIDER

An ancient—and terrifying—maritime practice becomes the impetus for a cracking good adventure story set in 13th-century China, after the Mongol conquest. Haoyou’s sailor father dies when sent up on a hatch cover, kite-style, to “test the wind,” and he, his beautiful mother, and his baby sister are left in the care of his rapacious and dishonest Great-uncle Bo. With the help of his world-weary cousin Mipeng, a young widow who has been forced into the role of medium, Haoyou manages to avoid the worst of his great-uncle’s schemes for himself and his mother, but real escape comes only when he comes to the attention of the charismatic owner of a circus. The Great Miao has heard of the practice of testing the wind, has seen Haoyou himself lofted into the air, and has determined that a kite-rider will be the central act of a show he intends to play before the conqueror Kublai Khan himself. McCaughrean (Roman Myths, 2001, etc.) takes her characters on a dizzying adventure across China even as she takes Haoyou on an inner journey to confront his deeply-held beliefs and prejudices. Haoyou and, to a lesser extent, Mipeng and the Great Miao all struggle with the accepted Confucian teaching that obedience to one’s elders must be observed at all costs. While the protagonists’ decisions regarding obedience and individualism may not have been the norm at the time, they are not out of place for this moment of great cultural upheaval, and their development is sensitively and at times wryly charted. Haoyou’s aerial ecstasy springs vividly off the page for some truly thrilling moments as he soars on his kite while Great-uncle Bo provides a low-humor counterpoint. An author’s note follows to contextualize the 13th-century and to explain the inspiration for Haoyou’s unusual vocation. Fast-paced and densely plotted, absorbing, and at times even hilarious. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: June 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-623874-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin. The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyle’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice. Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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CLOCKWORK ANGEL

From the Infernal Devices series , Vol. 1

A century before the events of Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy, another everyday heroine gets entangled with demon-slaying Shadowhunters. Sixteen-year-old orphaned Tessa comes to London to join her brother but is imprisoned by the grotesque Dark Sisters. The sisters train the unwilling Tessa in previously unknown shapeshifter abilities, preparing her to be a pawn in some diabolical plan. A timely rescue brings Tessa to the Institute, where a group of misfit Shadowhunters struggles to fight evil. Though details differ, the general flavor of Tessa’s new family will be enjoyably familiar to the earlier trilogy’s fans; the most important is Tessa’s rescuer Will, the gorgeous, sharp-tongued teenager with a mysterious past and a smile like “Lucifer might have smiled, moments before he fell from Heaven.” The lush, melodramatic urban fantasy setting of the Shadowhunter world morphs seamlessly into a steampunk Victorian past, and this new series provides the setup for what will surely be a climactic battle against hordes of demonically powered brass clockworks. The tale drags in places, but this crowdpleaser’s tension-filled conclusion ratchets toward a new set of mysteries. (Steampunk. 13-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4169-7586-1

Page Count: 496

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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