THE IMPOSSIBLE JOURNEY

The year is 1934, and Stalin has begun his own reign of terror, rounding up political dissidents under the slightest pretext. When Marya and Georgi’s parents are taken by the NKVD, they find themselves alone in Leningrad with no support beyond a couple of greedy neighbors. Their mother is relocated to Siberia, their father to a gulag; despite the thousands of miles between them, the children, 13 and 7, respectively, set out alone to join their mother. Whelan, returning to Russia after Angel on the Square (2001) (whose young protagonist is Marya and Georgi’s mother), paints a picture of a country where all live in fear and propaganda has taken over school curricula. The children navigate this perilous terrain with the help of some few good souls and heaps of luck. Chief among these heaps of luck is the convenient group of Samoyeds who befriend the children and take them north on reindeer back; this provides both a charming interlude and a credibility-stretching piece of narrative strategy, turning their improbable journey into a truly impossible one. Marya’s first-person narration effectively conveys the frustration of an older sibling desperately trying to keep a much younger one in line, but otherwise displays a degree of detachment that renders her more a reporter than an actor. Regrettably enough, the Soviet believers exist only as types, making for an unsubtle delineation between good and evil: “Comrade Tikonov stared coldly at me. . . . She gave a cruel laugh.” Like its predecessor, this offering takes 21st-century American readers back to a time and place largely ignored in children’s literature; it is a pity that this time and place are not made more immediate and vivid. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-623811-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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Our Verdict

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  • Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Winner

  • Newbery Honor Book

HEART OF A SAMURAI

BASED ON THE TRUE STORY OF NAKAHAMA MANJIRO

In 1841, 14-year-old Manjiro joined four others on an overnight fishing trip. Caught by a severe storm, their small rowboat was shipwrecked on a rocky island. Five months later, they were rescued by the crew of a whaling ship from New Bedford. Manjiro, renamed John Mung, was befriended by the captain and eventually lived in his home in New Bedford, rapidly absorbing Western culture. But the plight of his impoverished family in Japan was never far from Manjiro’s mind, although he knew that his country’s strict isolationist policy meant a death sentence if he returned. Illustrated with Manjiro’s own pencil drawings in addition to other archival material and original art from Tamaki, this is a captivating fictionalized (although notably faithful) retelling of the boy’s adventures. Capturing his wonder, remarkable willingness to learn, the prejudice he encountered and the way he eventually influenced officials in Japan to open the country, this highly entertaining page-turner is the perfect companion to Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy, by Rhoda Blumberg (2001). (historical note, extensive glossary, bibliography.) (Historical fiction. 9-13)

 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8109-8981-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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PRIVATE PEACEFUL

From England’s Children’s Laureate, a searing WWI-era tale of a close extended family repeatedly struck by adversity and injustice. On vigil in the trenches, 17-year-old Thomas Peaceful looks back at a childhood marked by guilt over his father’s death, anger at the shabby treatment his strong-minded mother receives from the local squire and others—and deep devotion to her, to his brain-damaged brother Big Joe, and especially to his other older brother Charlie, whom he has followed into the army by lying about his age. Weaving telling incidents together, Morpurgo surrounds the Peacefuls with mean-spirited people at home, and devastating wartime experiences on the front, ultimately setting readers up for a final travesty following Charlie’s refusal of an order to abandon his badly wounded brother. Themes and small-town class issues here may find some resonance on this side of the pond, but the particular cultural and historical context will distance the story from American readers—particularly as the pace is deliberate, and the author’s hints about where it’s all heading are too rare and subtle to create much suspense. (Fiction. 11-13, adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-439-63648-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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