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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FEVER 1793

In an intense, well-researched tale that will resonate particularly with readers in parts of the country where the West Nile virus and other insect-borne diseases are active, Anderson (Speak, 1999, etc.) takes a Philadelphia teenager through one of the most devastating outbreaks of yellow fever in our country’s history. It’s 1793, and though business has never been better at the coffeehouse run by Matilda’s widowed, strong-minded mother in what is then the national capital, vague rumors of disease come home to roost when the serving girl dies without warning one August night. Soon church bells are ringing ceaselessly for the dead as panicked residents, amid unrelenting heat and clouds of insects, huddle in their houses, stream out of town, or desperately submit to the conflicting dictates of doctors. Matilda and her mother both collapse, and in the ensuing confusion, they lose track of each other. Witnessing people behaving well and badly, Matilda first recovers slowly in a makeshift hospital, then joins the coffeehouse’s cook, Emma, a free African-American, in tending to the poor and nursing three small, stricken children. When at long last the October frosts signal the epidemic’s end, Emma and Matilda reopen the coffeehouse as partners, and Matilda’s mother turns up—alive, but a trembling shadow of her former self. Like Paul Fleischman’s Path of the Pale Horse (1983), which has the same setting, or Anna Myers’s Graveyard Girl (1995), about a similar epidemic nearly a century later, readers will find this a gripping picture of disease’s devastating effect on people, and on the social fabric itself. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-83858-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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Fluid prose elucidates a life much stranger than fiction.

PROMISE THE NIGHT

MacColl's second novel brings to life the childhood of future aviator and writer Beryl Markham (Prisoners in the Palace, 2010).

Born Beryl Clutterbuck, she moved with her family to the highlands of Kenya as a toddler. Not long after, her mother and brother returned to England, abandoning her with her rough though loving father. MacColl's account begins when a leopard steals into Beryl's hut and attacks her dog—the child leaping from her bed to give chase. Though she loses the leopard in the night, the next morning, she and her new friend, a Nandi boy, Kibii, find the dog still alive and save it. Later she insists on being part of the hunt for the leopard. Young Beryl wants nothing more than to be a warrior, a murani, and to be able to leap higher than her own head. Her jumping skills progress apace, but young white girls, no matter how determined, cannot become part of the Nandi tribe. Her relationship with Kibii's father, the wise Arap Maina, along with a growing awareness of the consequences of her actions, help lead her into a more mature—though still wildly impulsive and daring—life. MacColl intersperses her third-person narrative with faux news reports and first-person diary entries of two decades later, when Beryl Markham became the first person—let alone woman—to fly a plane west from Europe to America.

Fluid prose elucidates a life much stranger than fiction. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8118-7625-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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