When he is 15 or 16, Jem Bridwell marches off to the Civil War in search of “the glory” he believes battle brings to warriors. Predictably, after many of these battles, the boy realizes that “glory is a fool’s dream.” His family of Marylanders holds slaves but he joins the Union, as had his father, and like Henry in Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, learns that soldiering can be tedious, horrifying, and full of blood and death. Severance gives sharp sketches of daily life and real battles, hours of boredom and minutes of frightening horror. Jem and his best friend Hank enlist and go through the army experiences together until Jem may or may not have killed Hank in the smoke and fatigue of a battle. Readers may not be certain that Hank is dead because Jem, who has been wounded, is rescued in a serendipitous coincidence (perhaps too coincidental) by one of his family’s runaway slaves and thus can only assume he has killed his friend. Severance (Skyscrapers, 2000, etc.) has heretofore written nonfiction and his first attempt at fiction finds him working too hard to be descriptive. Plainly a solid researcher, he is still finding his way into presenting his findings without forcing them on the reader. Still, a carefully told story about this period of time is always welcome and it is to be hoped that Jem’s story will be continued. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-22999-X

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002


Aimed at readers who have already encountered Anne Frank, this riveting historical novel from Mazer (Missing Pieces, 1995, etc.) is based on a little-known chapter of WWII history. Karin Levi’s story begins in a tiny attic room in Paris in the 1940s, where she is hidden away with her brother, Marc, and their mother, practicing the art of quiet. German soldiers are conducting house-to-house searches, rounding up Jews, and the small family is soon on the run, depending on strangers for scraps of food and shelter. When Maman falls ill, Karin and Marc head for Naples without her; the children board the Henry Gibbons, a ship full of European refugees bound for Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York. Upon their arrival in America, their story turns from one of flight and danger to the happiness and sorrow associated with adjusting to a new language, customs, and schooling, and making new friends. Although it is a shock to Karin, it comes as no surprise to readers when Marc reveals that Maman is dead. Mazer skillfully paints Karin as brave and independent, yet depicts her devotion to Maman throughout, writing unsent letters and never losing sight of her belief that one day they will be reunited. Rather than relying on events and facts of the war and its atrocities to create sympathy, the author paints her central character’s thoughts and feelings, her moments of weakness and her strength, so that the story is stirringly understated. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-15-201468-3

Page Count: 189

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999


Twelve-year-old Gwen’s loving aunt has placed her in an institution. When readers first meet her, they find a thoughtful, but strange, child whose mind moves from clear reality to a somewhat mysterious take on the world around her. In the opening sequence, a bird drops a gold key into the garden under her dormitory window. When she goes outside to retrieve it, flouting the rules of the mental hospital, Gwen sets off a sequence of events that results in her eventual retreat into the world of the Earth Kitchen—a place of solitude, safety, and sanctuary from her memories and from daily life. The kitchen is furnished with the few articles from her past that comfort her, as well as some clues to what is going on in the ward. It’s the early 1960s, and Gwen has decided that her parents were killed in an atomic blast. Readers come to understand that it is this displacement of reality that has led to her institutionalization. The author artfully incorporates into the plot the terror of nuclear warfare, the less-affluent lifestyle, and comparative innocence of the pre-Vietnam era as well as that time’s attitudes toward and treatment of mental illness. Characterization is uneven; Gwen is fully realized, but the others revolve around her illness like figures floating on a mobile. Bryant uses language in an economical, lyrical way, especially in her depiction of the Earth Kitchen. This creates an exceptional sense of place, but because of Gwen’s illness, confusion can arise. Is there really a bird that drops a key? Is the Earth Kitchen really there? Despite these flaws, this is a suspenseful and thought-provoking piece of fiction and a promising debut. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-029605-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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