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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THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM--1963

Curtis debuts with a ten-year-old's lively account of his teenaged brother's ups and downs. Ken tries to make brother Byron out to be a real juvenile delinquent, but he comes across as more of a comic figure: getting stuck to the car when he kisses his image in a frozen side mirror, terrorized by his mother when she catches him playing with matches in the bathroom, earning a shaved head by coming home with a conk. In between, he defends Ken from a bully and buries a bird he kills by accident. Nonetheless, his parents decide that only a long stay with tough Grandma Sands will turn him around, so they all motor from Michigan to Alabama, arriving in time to witness the infamous September bombing of a Sunday school. Ken is funny and intelligent, but he gives readers a clearer sense of Byron's character than his own and seems strangely unaffected by his isolation and harassment (for his odd look—he has a lazy eye—and high reading level) at school. Curtis tries to shoehorn in more characters and subplots than the story will comfortably bear—as do many first novelists—but he creates a well-knit family and a narrator with a distinct, believable voice. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-32175-9

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1995

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