MAPPING THE BONES

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

ONCE A QUEEN

Evocations of Narnia are not enough to salvage this fantasy, which struggles with thin character development.

A portal fantasy survivor story from an established devotional writer.

Fourteen-year-old Eva’s maternal grandmother lives on a grand estate in England; Eva and her academic parents live in New Haven, Connecticut. When she and Mum finally visit Carrick Hall, Eva is alternately resentful at what she’s missed and overjoyed to connect with sometimes aloof Grandmother. Alongside questions of Eva’s family history, the summer is permeated by a greater mystery surrounding the work of fictional children’s fantasy writer A.H.W. Clifton, who wrote a Narnialike series that Eva adores. As it happens, Grandmother was one of several children who entered and ruled Ternival, the world of Clifton’s books; the others perished in 1952, and Grandmother hasn’t recovered. The Narnia influences are strong—Eva’s grandmother is the Susan figure who’s repudiated both magic and God—and the ensuing trauma has created rifts that echo through her relationships with her daughter and granddaughter. An early narrative implication that Eva will visit Ternival to set things right barely materializes in this series opener; meanwhile, the religious parable overwhelms the magic elements as the story winds on. The serviceable plot is weakened by shallow characterization. Little backstory appears other than that which immediately concerns the plot, and Eva tends to respond emotionally as the story requires—resentful when her seething silence is required, immediately trusting toward characters readers need to trust. Major characters are cued white.

Evocations of Narnia are not enough to salvage this fantasy, which struggles with thin character development. (author’s note, map, author Q&A) (Religious fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2024

ISBN: 9780593194454

Page Count: 384

Publisher: WaterBrook

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2023

DAUGHTER OF XANADU

A 13th-century princess wants to be a warrior; the old tale's less forced than usual when set in the Mongol Empire with its legends of fighting women. Emmajin is Khubilai Khan's (fictional) oldest granddaughter, and she would rather be a soldier than a wife. Emmajin struggles to convince the Khan, but her desire is complicated by a growing attraction to the hairy visiting foreigner, Marco Polo. Emmajin's stubborn drive brings both her and Marco to combat and the novel's highlight: a lusciously described brutal engagement of cavalry, archers and elephants. Unlike much of the rest of Emmajin's tale, the battle and its profound emotional aftermath don't suffer from dry overdescription. Otherwise, Emmajin writes as if alien in her own home: She serves "Mongolian cheese," notices her cousins' "distinctive Mongolian male haircut" and rides with a "traditional Mongolian wooden saddle." With such a narrator, it's unsurprising that she finds exotic Christendom compelling, but it is a disappointment. Gorgeous cover art packages this blandly informative adventure, which is spiced with just enough blood and sexual tension to keep readers turning the pages. (Historical fiction. 12-13)

 

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-73923-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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