ONE TRUE FRIEND

A semi-epistolary novel in which two friends help each other through hard times with a long-distance correspondence. Hansen brings back characters introduced in The Gift-Giver (1980) and Yellow Bird and Me (1986) to continue their stories. Amir, 14, an orphan whose family has been broken up, is adjusting to life in Syracuse with new foster parents, the Smiths, who have raised his little brother from the age of two. Meanwhile, Doris, 12, sends him news of his old Bronx neighborhood and writes of her friendship with a girl who she learns has a marijuana habit. The letters back and forth between the two children are buttressed by a more traditional third-person narrative of Amir’s activities in Syracuse, for the story is primarily his. It’s his quest to find his aunt and his other brothers and sisters to reunite his family, and his struggle to overcome the shame that clouds his memory of his parents’ last days. He is a genuinely sympathetic character, his loneliness and reluctance to trust this new set of foster parents being compounded by his little brother’s total attachment to the Smiths and his heartbreaking lack of memory of his birth family. In their correspondence, however, the kids come across as almost impossibly sweet; their letters have a few token grammatical errors but otherwise Amir and Doris express themselves with astonishing fluency and with a sort of forced naïveté that frequently falls flat. Nonetheless, it’s a good-hearted and honest treatment of kids’ feelings as they cope with their own separate challenges. The story can stand on its own; newcomers to the series, though, may want to go back to the earlier books to see how Amir and Doris’s friendship started. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2001

ISBN: 0-395-84983-7

Page Count: 151

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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The poem/novel ends with only a trace of hope; there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality.

OUT OF THE DUST

Billie Jo tells of her life in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl: Her mother dies after a gruesome accident caused by her father's leaving a bucket of kerosene near the stove; Billie Jo is partially responsible—fully responsible in the eyes of the community—and sustains injuries that seem to bring to a halt her dreams of playing the piano.

Finding a way through her grief is not made easier by her taciturn father, who went on a drinking binge while Billie Joe's mother, not yet dead, begged for water. Told in free-verse poetry of dated entries that span the winter of 1934 to the winter of 1935, this is an unremittingly bleak portrait of one corner of Depression-era life. In Billie Jo, the only character who comes to life, Hesse (The Music of Dolphins, 1996, etc.) presents a hale and determined heroine who confronts unrelenting misery and begins to transcend it.

The poem/novel ends with only a trace of hope; there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 978-0-590-36080-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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Ideas abound, but when the focus shifts from Thomas' determination to take the measure of the house (literally and...

THE HOUSE OF DIES DREAR

Dies Drear? Ohio abolitionist, keeper of a key station on the Underground Railroad, bearer of a hypercharged name that is not even noted as odd. Which is odd: everything else has an elaborate explanation.

Unlike Zeely, Miss Hamilton's haunting first, this creates mystery only to reveal sleight-of-hand, creates a character who's larger than life only to reveal his double. Thirteen-year-old Thomas Small is fascinated, and afraid, of the huge, uncharted house his father, a specialist in Negro Civil War history, has purposefully rented. A strange pair of children, tiny Pesty and husky Mac Darrow, seem to tease him; old bearded Pluto, long-time caretaker and local legend, seems bent on scaring the Smalls away. But how can a lame old man run fast enough to catch Thomas from behind? what do the triangles affixed to their doors signify? who spread a sticky paste of foodstuffs over the kitchen? Pluto, accosted, disappears. . . into a cavern that was Dies Drear's treasure house of decorative art, his solace for the sequestered slaves. But Pluto is not, despite his nickname, the devil; neither is he alone; his actor-son has returned to help him stave off the greedy Darrows and the Smalls, if they should also be hostile to the house, the treasure, the tradition. Pluto as keeper of the flame would be more convincing without his, and his son's, histrionics, and without Pesty as a prodigy cherubim. There are some sharp observations of, and on, the Negro church historically and presently, and an aborted ideological debate regarding use of the Negro heritage.

Ideas abound, but when the focus shifts from Thomas' determination to take the measure of the house (literally and figuratively), the story becomes a charade. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 1968

ISBN: 1416914056

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1968

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