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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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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Its focus firmly on the details of mountaineering in the French Alps and the Himalayas—mechanics, technique, lore, social milieu—a simplistic novel about an unlikely superheroine (though already making record-breaking climbs while still in her teens, her only major injury occurs early on when a guide hazes her by giving her a double load) who achieves worldwide recognition for her exploits in the 1950's. The tacked-on plot—minor setbacks, a romance with another climber—has less depth than most comic strips and reads like an old-fashioned adulatory biography. Roper is obviously well-acquainted with climbing, and for anyone interested in the subject there's a wealth of information here; he should have omitted the feeble story and added an index. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-316-75606-7

Page Count: 188

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1991

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