ANGEL ON THE SQUARE

A young Russian aristocrat comes of age during the Great War and the Russian Revolution. In 1913, 13-year-old Katya’s life is good: she is about to join the Tsar’s household with her Mama, who has just been appointed Lady-in-Waiting to the Empress. Her best friend and foster brother Misha, a young intellectual with revolutionary leanings, cannot dampen her enthusiasm with his talk of the people’s privations and dire predictions of war, but over the course of the next five years, Katya witnesses the outbreak of war and both revolutions, and is eventually reduced to the life of a peasant. Trying to encapsulate this particular sweep of history in 300 pages is no easy task, and Whelan (Homeless Bird, 2000, etc.) clearly struggles with the challenge of establishing sympathy for the Tsar’s family while at the same time allowing her protagonist to understand the depths of the social injustice that ultimately brings about her downfall. This results in a character who ultimately observes but never acts. When the royal family heads to the army’s headquarters, they do so in luxuriously appointed railroad cars; on the same train, soldiers travel to the front in empty boxcars. Katya is “embarrassed by our show of luxury. I wondered what the soldiers thought of us as they watched us climb into our comfortable quarters, trailed by servants and piles of luggage.” While this is possibly psychologically consistent and clearly serves a narrative purpose, it is unsatisfying. Still, the novel serves as an introduction, if inevitably oversimplified and largely devoid of political discussion, to a complicated and important period in world history, and from a perspective that will naturally appeal to kids whose exposure to the events is from animated videos. (glossary) (Fiction. 10-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-029030-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2001

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Longing—for connection, for family, for a voice—roars to life with just a touch of magic.

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WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER

A young girl bargaining for the health of her grandmother discovers both her family’s past and the strength of her own voice.

For many years, Lily’s Korean grandmother, Halmoni, has shared her Asian wisdom and healing powers with her predominantly White community. When Lily, her sister, Sam—both biracial, Korean and White—and their widowed mom move in with Halmoni to be close with her as she ages, Lily begins to see a magical tiger. What were previously bedtime stories become dangerously prophetic, as Lily begins to piece together fact from fiction. There is no need for prior knowledge of Korean folktales, although a traditional Korean myth propels the story forward. From the tiger, Lily learns that Halmoni has bottled up the hard stories of her past to keep sadness at bay. Lily makes a deal with the tiger to heal her grandmother by releasing those stories. What she comes to realize is that healing doesn’t mean health and that Halmoni is not the only one in need of the power of storytelling. Interesting supporting characters are fully developed but used sparingly to keep the focus on the simple yet suspenseful plot. Keller infuses this tale, which explores both the end of life and coming-of-age, with a sensitive examination of immigration issues and the complexity of home. It is at one and the same time completely American and thoroughly informed by Korean culture.

Longing—for connection, for family, for a voice—roars to life with just a touch of magic. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1570-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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