Nevertheless, given the dearth of material about the exodus of the families that supported democracy in Vietnam, this novel...

OUT OF THE DRAGON'S MOUTH

In 1978, Chinese-Vietnamese Mai’s previously wealthy family has sent her away as a first step in getting the whole family to the safety of America.

She is accompanied by Uncle Hiep, who at 16 is only two years older than she is. The two survive a harrowing boat journey and fetch up on a small island called Pulau Tenga, off the coast of Malaysia, where Small Auntie, Mai’s mother’s sister-in-law, is to take care of them. Small Auntie and her family have been stranded there since their boat died a year ago. She can help them navigate this crowded and somewhat harsh terrain and work with the Red Cross to contact an uncle living in Chicago. But Small Auntie believes that the two have brought wealth with them, and her greed soon finds them ostracized and seeking help from other young people on their own. Based on a friend’s experiences, Zeiss’ first novel lacks the immediacy of an actual memoir and suffers from unevenness of tone. At times, it seems that Mai can’t distinguish between large and small crises, which undercuts her otherwise real trauma. At other times, the challenges she faces are grievous and even deadly.

Nevertheless, given the dearth of material about the exodus of the families that supported democracy in Vietnam, this novel has value in helping to bring home to modern readers the great costs they suffered. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7387-4196-3

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Flux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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Though no punches are pulled about the unimaginable atrocity of the death camps, a life-affirming history

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  • Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner

THE LIBRARIAN OF AUSCHWITZ

A teenage girl imprisoned in Auschwitz keeps the secret library of a forbidden school.

Dita Adlerova, 14, is confined in the notorious extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Compared to her fellow inmates, Dita’s relatively lucky. The several thousand residents of camp BIIb are inexplicably allowed to keep their own clothing, their hair, and, most importantly, their children. A young man named Fredy Hirsch maintains a school in BIIb, right under the noses of the Nazis. In Fredy’s classroom, Dita discovers something wonderful: a dangerous collection of eight smuggled books. The tale, based on the real life of Dita Polach Kraus and the events of 1944 and 1945, intertwines the stories of several real people: Dita, Fredy, several little-known war heroes, even a grim cameo from Anne and Margot Frank. Holocaust-knowledgeable readers will have suspicions about how many characters will die horribly (spoiler alert: this is Auschwitz). Yet somehow, myriad storylines told by multiple narrators offer compelling narrative tension. Why does BIIb exist? Will Rudi and Alice have a romance? What’s Fredy’s secret? Will Dr. Mengele subject Dita to his grotesque experiments? Dita’s matter-of-fact perspective, set in a slow build from BIIb to the chaotic starvation of the war’s end, both increases the horror and makes it bearable to read.

Though no punches are pulled about the unimaginable atrocity of the death camps, a life-affirming history . (Historical fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62779-618-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Godwin Books/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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