A DOOR NEAR HERE

An overstuffed page-turner, both melodramatic and absorbing, with a tried-and-true premise: a sibling’s struggle to keep her family together despite overwhelming parental neglect. Katherine, 15, living on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., is desperate to keep her sister Tracey, brother Douglas, and half- sister Alisa, fed, clothed, and in school. Her father is far away, with his new family; her mother has been in a bedridden, alcoholic stupor for weeks. Even small tragedies—an overflowing sink or a sulky heating system—can completely consume the family, already coping with emotional burdens. Katherine fears the entrance of social services and the possible break-up of her family so deeply that she tells wild lies to teachers, especially to Mr. Dodgson, who seems to be trying to help her. His efforts, and hers to dodge them, combine for an explosive climax; the brief epilogue is abrupt by comparison. Alisa’s search for Aslan, the lion king of Narnia (hence the title), and the three older siblings’ addiction to cigarettes do not always cleave to or move along the plotline; instead, in her first novel, Quarles’s strength is in conveying how it feels to be hungry, tired, and dirty, while attempting to keep up appearances. The characters in this novel are deeply flawed, yet readers will want to know, to the last paragraph, what happens to them. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32595-9

Page Count: 231

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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FABLEHAVEN

Witty repartee between the central characters, as well as the occasional well-done set piece, isn’t enough to hold this hefty debut together. Teenagers Seth and Kendra are dropped off by traveling parents at their grandfather’s isolated Connecticut estate, and soon discover why he’s so reluctant to have them—the place is a secret haven for magical creatures, both benign and decidedly otherwise. Those others are held in check by a complicated, unwritten and conveniently malleable Compact that is broken on Midsummer Eve, leaving everyone except Kendra captive in a hidden underground chamber with a newly released demon. Mull’s repeated use of the same device to prod the plot along comes off as more labored than comic: Over and over an adult issues a stern but vague warning; Seth ignores it; does some mischief and is sorry afterward. Sometimes Kendra joins in trying to head off her uncommonly dense brother. She comes into her own at the rousing climax, but that takes a long time to arrive; stick with Michael Buckley’s “Sisters Grimm” tales, which carry a similar premise in more amazing and amusing directions. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59038-581-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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