STEAL AWAY

``My heart was going in sixteen different directions. But my body was going North.'' In this subtle, powerful novel, Susannah, a teenage orphan reluctantly transplanted from Vermont to Virginia, and Bethlehem, the slave assigned to her, decide to escape together. The two young women, who alternate as narrators, have very different points of view: to Susannah, teaching her slave to read is merely a project; in leaving her stern uncle's farm, she runs only the risk of being brought back. For Bethlehem, both the reading and the running are deadly dangerous—but the potential rewards are beyond price. Working together despite the gulf between them (after they watch a battered group of stolen slaves shuffle past, Bethlehem reacts fiercely: ``You don't know,'' she says through tears, ``you can't ever know''), the two forge a bond that lasts even after they go their separate ways, one to a comfortable life in Vermont, the other to a teaching career in Toronto. Decades later, they are reunited in Bethlehem's slum apartment, where she is on her deathbed, and tell their story to two young counterparts: Susannah's naive granddaughter, and Bethlehem's angry nurse. In the telling, the strong cast reacts and interacts in complex ways, each forced to consider new ideas and reexamine memories and preconceptions. A distinctive tale of courage and sacrifice, with no glib lessons or easy resolutions but a memorable portrait of a soul for whom freedom is the greatest prize. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: March 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-531-05983-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Orchard

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1992

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more