JAKARTA MISSING

In this slow-moving contemporary novel, a sixth-grader contrasts her new life in North Dakota with her childhood in Africa, while her family struggles with their differing hopes for the future. When Dakar and her parents move to Cottonwood, North Dakota, for a year, leaving her older sister Jakarta in Africa, nothing seems right to the girl. Her parents, both of whom remain largely one-dimensional characters, only contribute to her worries. Her charismatic father longs to be elsewhere, working with Doctors without Borders or helping refugees. Her mother, who grew up in North Dakota, seems distant and ambivalent about being back. Dakar longs for her sister, but when Jakarta reluctantly joins them, the happy family Dakar hopes for still doesn’t emerge. Instead her mother goes away to help an ailing aunt, not realizing that Dakar’s father leaves shortly after her to do rescue work in Guatemala. While high-schooler Jakarta devotes her time to basketball and leads her team to a series of wins, Dakar spends far too much time alone with no adults to care for her. Dakar’s lyrical memories of Africa help sustain her, but may prove confusing to readers unfamiliar with the countries she mentions. Similarly, her frequent allusions to the Bible, Russian rulers, and The Water Babies will be more distracting than meaningful for many readers. Kurtz’s (Faraway Home, 2000, etc.) love for both Africa and North Dakota comes across clearly, but she has woven too many strands into her novel without strong enough characterizations to hold them together. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: April 30, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-029401-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY

From the Joey Pigza series , Vol. 1

If Rotten Ralph were a boy instead of a cat, he might be Joey, the hyperactive hero of Gantos's new book, except that Joey is never bad on purpose. In the first-person narration, it quickly becomes clear that he can't help himself; he's so wound up that he not only practically bounces off walls, he literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck and which he pull back up, complete with souvenirs of the food he just ate). Gantos's straightforward view of what it's like to be Joey is so honest it hurts. Joey has been abandoned by his alcoholic father and, for a time, by his mother (who also drinks); his grandmother, just as hyperactive as he is, abuses Joey while he's in her care. One mishap after another leads Joey first from his regular classroom to special education classes and then to a special education school. With medication, counseling, and positive reinforcement, Joey calms down. Despite a lighthearted title and jacket painting, the story is simultaneously comic and horrific; Gantos takes readers right inside a human whirlwind where the ride is bumpy and often frightening, especially for Joey. But a river of compassion for the characters runs through the pages, not only for Joey but for his overextended mom and his usually patient, always worried (if only for their safety) teachers. Mature readers will find this harsh tale softened by unusual empathy and leavened by genuinely funny events. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-33664-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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