This historical novel, winner of the 2000 Whitbread Award, deals with one of the more lurid and fascinating bits of English history. In 18th-century England, a man makes his living disposing of the unwanted children of both rich and poor women. Sometimes he sells them into slavery, sometimes he kills them, and sometimes he blackmails the mothers for years thereafter. He even abuses his own son Meshak, a simpleminded lad. Meshak, who is quite literally haunted by the babies he has helped to bury in ditches throughout the countryside, rescues one special abandoned child: the illegitimate newborn of a young woman whom he has worshipped from afar. He takes the baby to the Coram Hospital, where he is named Aaron, raised as an orphan, and exhibits a prodigious talent for music, encouraged by none other than George Frideric Handel. Years later, the paths of all the participants of the drama—Meshak, his villainous father, the illegitimate child, the child’s parents—intersect with electrifying consequences. For when the participants in the original tragedy gather together, “there was not just one truth, because there was not one person there who knew the whole of it.” This of course lends the plot structure considerable tension as the readers watch the characters try to unravel things. In her Preface, the author gives historical background regarding the infanticide and child slavery of the era, and the real historical character, Captain Thomas Coram, who devoted much of his life to establishing the Foundling Hospital where abandoned children would be sheltered. The historical setting is presented in enough detail to set the stage but not overwhelm readers with no previous background and knowledge. This is the stuff of high melodrama, and readers of the genre who will be swept along by the theatrics will not be disappointed. (Fiction. 11-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-31544-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American...


Crystal-clear prose poems paint a heart-rending picture of 13-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa’s journey from Seattle to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

This vividly wrought story of displacement, told from Mina’s first-person perspective, begins as it did for so many Japanese-Americans: with the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor. The backlash of her Seattle community is instantaneous (“Jap, Jap, Jap, the word bounces / around the walls of the hall”), and Mina chronicles its effects on her family with a heavy heart. “I am an American, I scream / in my head, but my mouth is stuffed / with rocks; my body is a stone, like the statue / of a little Buddha Grandpa prays to.” When Roosevelt decrees that West Coast Japanese-Americans are to be imprisoned in inland camps, the Tagawas board up their house, leaving the cat, Grandpa’s roses and Mina’s best friend behind. Following the Tagawas from Washington’s Puyallup Assembly Center to Idaho’s Minidoka Relocation Center (near the titular town of Eden), the narrative continues in poems and letters. In them, injustices such as endless camp lines sit alongside even larger ones, such as the government’s asking interned young men, including Mina’s brother, to fight for America.

An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American internment. (historical note) (Verse/historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8075-1739-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Sensitive subject matter that could have benefited from a subtler, more sober touch.


A Jewish girl joins up with Polish resistance groups to fight for her people against the evils of the Holocaust.

Chaya Lindner is forcibly separated from her family when they are consigned to the Jewish ghetto in Krakow. The 16-year-old is taken in by the leaders of Akiva, a fledgling Jewish resistance group that offers her the opportunity to become a courier, using her fair coloring to pass for Polish and sneak into ghettos to smuggle in supplies and information. Chaya’s missions quickly become more dangerous, taking her on a perilous journey from a disastrous mission in Krakow to the ghastly ghetto of Lodz and eventually to Warsaw to aid the Jews there in their gathering uprising inside the walls of the ghetto. Through it all, she is partnered with a secretive young girl whom she is reluctant to trust. The trajectory of the narrative skews toward the sensational, highlighting moments of resistance via cinematic action sequences but not pausing to linger on the emotional toll of the Holocaust’s atrocities. Younger readers without sufficient historical knowledge may not appreciate the gravity of the events depicted. The principal characters lack depth, and their actions and the situations they find themselves in often require too much suspension of disbelief to pass for realism.

Sensitive subject matter that could have benefited from a subtler, more sober touch. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-14847-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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