A sweet mother-daughter tale.


Betty, just turning 15, lost her mother to cancer when she was a toddler. Now she thinks she’s in love for the first time. Can she still get advice from Mum?

When she sees pale-skinned, black-haired Toby for the first time, blonde, blue-eyed Betty has an immediate physical reaction. Toby might be the most handsome boy she’s ever seen. When Toby takes an interest in her, even calling her his girlfriend, Betty needs advice. On every birthday her dad has given her a letter that her mother wrote to her, but this year’s is the last letter. But in it, her mum writes that she has hidden more letters in the attic, and these specifically talk about her first experience of falling in love. It turns out that her mum had an experience quite similar to Betty’s when she was the same age. Meanwhile, as Betty gets to know Toby better, she begins to see another side to him. Betty will find love in this story, but from whom? Set in England (with a lightly Americanized text), the story shows little evidence of its racial and cultural diversity. McLachlan creates a lovely coming-of-age experience for Betty as she learns about love and also about the mother she cannot remember but whose love she also craves. The story drops clues about Toby’s less-than-stellar character that allow readers to discover his flaws before Betty does.

A sweet mother-daughter tale. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: April 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-06149-2

Page Count: 209

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A strong sense of place and an appealing protagonist cannot overcome outdated stereotypes of Indigenous people.


In pre–World War I Australia, 12-year-old Savannah Dawson wants to be a whaler like her father.

She knows whaling is in her blood, however, as a girl, she is stuck as a cook’s helper. Given the chance, she would gladly follow in her father’s footsteps even though that is how both her brothers lost their lives. Her mother has also passed away, and her absence is palpable. Through her new friend, Figgie, an Indigenous boy whose real name is Calagun—Savannah renames him after an ineffectual attempt to pronounce it—she learns about Indigenous beliefs positioning orcas as the guardians of the Earth and the need to live in harmony with nature. As she comprehends the balance between whaling and the beasts of the deep, she has increasingly cryptic dreams. Meanwhile, industrialization is encroaching thanks to wealthy American investor Jacob Bittermen, who wants to introduce factory processes to whaling. Savannah, who is White by default, is a well-developed, three-dimensional character who starts off only caring about her own goals but grows through her friendships. Whaling terms and Australian slang add atmosphere and pull readers deeper into the colorful world. Unfortunately, the Indigenous characters feed into tropes of mystical guides. Figgie is not as well rounded as Savannah; his actions support her journey of self-discovery, but apart from that, he does not appear to have a purpose in the story.

A strong sense of place and an appealing protagonist cannot overcome outdated stereotypes of Indigenous people. (list of abbreviations, glossary) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: July 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64603-070-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Fitzroy Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet