Through the diary of young Jim Hay, Wilson offers a soldier’s eye view of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and the events leading to it. Jim’s 16th Highland Light Infantry battalion lost 511 of its 750 men, one theater in a war of horrendous carnage—one million casualties by battle’s end—and ten million lives lost in the war overall. As in many war stories, Jim goes off to battle with great optimism, expecting early victory and a quick return to his girlfriend, Anne Cunningham. By mid-story, Jim says, “Still the war goes on,” and later: “Oh, Anne! I long to be somewhere clean, where the air is fresh and horror is only a thing of storybooks.” The diary includes letters, snippets from newspapers, and lines of poetry. The format has possibility but lacks imagination: the newspaper clippings don’t look or feel real, and the storytelling voice is flat, nothing that grabs emotions and involves the reader in the story. Burning lice over candles, descriptions of weather, mentioning books being read, the death of a father and mother, the shooting of a deserter, bloodshed on the battlefield—all are blandly related, with little power or weight. What will hold attention, though, is the hint of a family secret: “Every family has secrets. Ours is no different. One secret concerns the lad who wrote this diary.” Readers who persevere will be rewarded with a satisfactory conclusion in which the diarist’s fate and the family secret are revealed. May be of interest to readers of war novels or anyone wanting to learn more about WWI. (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-55337-400-2

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Kids Can

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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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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It’s 1949, and 13-year-old Francine Green lives in “the land of ‘Sit down, Francine’ and ‘Be quiet, Francine’ ” at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles. When she meets Sophie Bowman and her father, she’s encouraged to think about issues in the news: the atomic bomb, peace, communism and blacklisting. This is not a story about the McCarthy era so much as one about how one girl—who has been trained to be quiet and obedient by her school, family, church and culture—learns to speak up for herself. Cushman offers a fine sense of the times with such cultural references as President Truman, Hopalong Cassidy, Montgomery Clift, Lucky Strike, “duck and cover” and the Iron Curtain. The dialogue is sharp, carrying a good part of this story of friends and foes, guilt and courage—a story that ought to send readers off to find out more about McCarthy, his witch-hunt and the First Amendment. Though not a happily-ever-after tale, it dramatizes how one person can stand up to unfairness, be it in front of Senate hearings or in the classroom. (author’s note) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-50455-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Clarion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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