THE ORNAMENT TREE

An orphan's life takes a sharp turn for the better when she becomes a member of her freethinking cousin's household. Newly orphaned Bonnie, 14, doesn't know what to expect of her relatives, but cousins Audra and Winnie, and Audra's grown daughter Sally, make her ``more welcome than good luck and Christmas both.'' Having fallen on hard times, the women have recently begun taking in boarders, struggling to keep their guests comfortable and fed. As in Thesman's Molly Donnelly (1993), the daily bustle and dinner table conversations of an extended family tie several plot threads together: the 1918 influenza epidemic; the return of Sally's bullying husband; the rehabilitation of a young, blind war veteran. On a lighter note, there is an unending parade of unpleasant cooks and minor domestic crises, and although Bonnie admires her relatives to pieces, the irony of women who pass out suffragist and birth control literature but can't cook their own meals is not lost on her. For her large cast Thesman relies on suggestion and nuance to develop her characters, but sensitive readers will be surprised at how familiar many of the people seem by the bittersweet but satisfying conclusion. A rich, multilayered novel anchored by a loving, unconventional family. Must the story end here? (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-395-74278-1

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1995

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WHAT THE MOON SAW

When Clara Luna, 14, visits rural Mexico for the summer to visit the paternal grandparents she has never met, she cannot know her trip will involve an emotional and spiritual journey into her family’s past and a deep connection to a rich heritage of which she was barely aware. Long estranged from his parents, Clara’s father had entered the U.S. illegally years before, subsequently becoming a successful business owner who never spoke about what he left behind. Clara’s journey into her grandmother’s history (told in alternating chapters with Clara’s own first-person narrative) and her discovery that she, like her grandmother and ancestors, has a gift for healing, awakens her to the simple, mystical joys of a rural lifestyle she comes to love and wholly embrace. Painfully aware of not fitting into suburban teen life in her native Maryland, Clara awakens to feeling alive in Mexico and realizes a sweet first love with Pedro, a charming goat herder. Beautifully written, this is filled with evocative language that is rich in imagery and nuance and speaks to the connections that bind us all. Add a thrilling adventure and all the makings of an entrancing read are here. (glossaries) (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-73343-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2006

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FABLEHAVEN

Witty repartee between the central characters, as well as the occasional well-done set piece, isn’t enough to hold this hefty debut together. Teenagers Seth and Kendra are dropped off by traveling parents at their grandfather’s isolated Connecticut estate, and soon discover why he’s so reluctant to have them—the place is a secret haven for magical creatures, both benign and decidedly otherwise. Those others are held in check by a complicated, unwritten and conveniently malleable Compact that is broken on Midsummer Eve, leaving everyone except Kendra captive in a hidden underground chamber with a newly released demon. Mull’s repeated use of the same device to prod the plot along comes off as more labored than comic: Over and over an adult issues a stern but vague warning; Seth ignores it; does some mischief and is sorry afterward. Sometimes Kendra joins in trying to head off her uncommonly dense brother. She comes into her own at the rousing climax, but that takes a long time to arrive; stick with Michael Buckley’s “Sisters Grimm” tales, which carry a similar premise in more amazing and amusing directions. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59038-581-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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