THE ART OF KEEPING COOL by Janet Taylor Lisle
Kirkus Star


Age Range: 10 - 14
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Two stunning tragedies are at the center of this story of the WWII homefront. Lisle deftly uses the first two chapters to introduce characters and setting. The first begins with the slow progress of mighty naval guns into a Rhode Island village in 1942. Watching are 13-year-old cousins Robert and Elliot, and Abel Hoffman, an artist who has fled Nazi Germany. The second begins with a family dinner where Grandfather controls his family through barely contained rage. There is a ghost at the table and in Robert’s life—his emotionally elusive father who is flying for the Royal Air Force, the mere mention of whom exacts savage reaction from Grandfather. Surrounding the two tragedies, which are never far from the surface, is a finely woven web of secrets, suspicions, prejudice, and fear. Lisle brings the anti-German sentiment that swept the East Coast into sharp relief through Hoffman, who discovers he is reliving the nightmare of his life in Germany. When the villagers, convinced he is a Nazi spy, set fire to his home and work, Hoffman walks into the flames of his own paintings. Characters are interestingly developed, especially the artistic Elliot, who uses his drawing to catch and contain images of fear so they lose their power over him. Elliot, who never directly opposes his grandfather, disappears into self-imposed isolation within his family. The second tragedy is jarring for all its earlier foreshadowing. Fittingly, it is revealed through Elliot’s drawing in which Robert’s defiant father is shot in the leg by his own father. The conclusion leaves Robert wondering how he can bear to live in a family that serves itself daily doses of denial and pretense, and learning “the art of keeping cool” from his enigmatic cousin. Briskly plotted, emotionally complex, brutal in incident yet delicately nuanced in the telling, a fine historical fiction. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-689-83787-9
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Richard Jackson/Atheneum
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2000


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