MILKWEED

When the reader first meets the narrator of this tale, he knows himself only as “Stopthief.” He is a Warsaw street orphan, without morals, without culture, without community—until Uri takes him in to join his pack of fellow orphans, all Jews. Life is good for the newly renamed Misha, until the Jackboots arrive and force him and his fellow orphans into the ghetto, where life becomes increasingly more desperate and community—both that of the orphans and of Janina, a little girl whose family he adopts—increasingly necessary. Spinelli’s choice of narrator is a masterstroke. Because Misha has no sense of anything except his own immediate needs and desires, he has no urge to explain the bizarre and fundamentally irrational events that befall him. He simply reports graphically, almost clinically, on the slow devastation of the Jews of Warsaw and on the changes in his own relationships, to friends and world, brought about by the experience. His own psychological and social growth is almost lost on the reader until a coda, that still makes no attempt to explain, finally finds him at peace. Stunning. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-81374-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin. The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyle’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice. Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s...

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ECHO

A multilayered novel set in turbulent times explores music’s healing power.

Sweeping across years and place, Ryan’s full-bodied story is actually five stories that take readers from an enchanted forest to Germany, Pennsylvania, Southern California, and finally New York City. Linking the stories is an ethereal-sounding harmonica first introduced in the fairy-tale beginning of the book and marked with a mysterious M. In Nazi Germany, 12-year-old Friedrich finds the harmonica in an abandoned building; playing it fills him with the courage to attempt to free his father from Dachau. Next, the harmonica reaches two brothers in an orphanage in Depression-era Pennsylvania, from which they are adopted by a mysterious wealthy woman who doesn’t seem to want them. Just after the United States enters World War II, the harmonica then makes its way to Southern California in a box of used instruments for poor children; as fifth-grader Ivy Lopez learns to play, she discovers she has exceptional musical ability. Ryan weaves these stories together, first, with the theme of music—symbolized by the harmonica—and its ability to empower the disadvantaged and discriminated-against, and then, at the novel’s conclusion, as readers learn the intertwined fate of each story’s protagonist.

A grand narrative that examines the power of music to inspire beauty in a world overrun with fear and intolerance, it’s worth every moment of readers’ time. (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-439-87402-1

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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