Walter’s debut novel is a profile of innocence maintained in the face of war.
Malik and his grandfather, Papa, are running from soldiers to a port, where they hope to board a ship to safety. Malik believes they will meet his mother there, although Papa is suspiciously (at least to readers) circumspect. To keep him distracted, Papa teaches Malik a trick to make small items disappear; this new sleight-of-hand talent will come in very handy later on. When former business associates and fellow refugees steal a diamond from Papa meant to fund passage to and start-up costs in a new country, escape seems impossible. The tension is palpable, and if the lack of details about place and time may frustrate some, it also serves to keep the focus on character types. The threat posed by the soldiers is not explicit but ominous all the same. Unethical opportunists arouse a sense of injustice. Papa, a wheeler-dealer, gets Malik on the boat, but Malik is crushed to learn that his mother is not onboard. It all seems for naught until a sympathetic foster parent aids Malik’s search for his family. The roller-coaster ride of experiences and emotions, taking Malik and readers from fear, despair, loss, and grief to love and hope, is accurately drawn.
A good choice for sensitive children not ready for more pointed accounts. (Fiction. 8-12)