PRAYING TO A.L.

Sierra’s father has been sick for a long time, but his death still hits her, and her family, hard. Her mother is moody, her brother seems not to notice anything has happened, and, though friends open up to Sierra with their memories of her dad, the 13-year-old can visit her own memories safely only by speaking to the photograph of Abraham Lincoln she keeps in her room. She knows a lot about “A.L.’s” life and childhood, and compares his hardships and peculiarities to her own. While this allows for a little American history and an interesting perspective on Sierra's interracial Jewish/Cuban family history, it is a weak device. As a result, the first third of the narrative meanders until the emergence of Sierra’s long-time best friend, Eli, as a pivotal character. As their relationship shifts, Sierra's family grows into a new unit—scarred, but healthy. As in her other novels (Losing Louisa, 1999, etc.), Caseley's characters are interesting and fully realized—flawed, but sympathetic—and readers can enjoy this as a middle-school novel as well as a story about grief. Though slow to start, it’s a satisfying read. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 31, 2000

ISBN: 0-688-15934-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Greenwillow

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

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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THE RIVER

A sequel to the most popular of Paulsen's three Newbery Honor books (Hatchet, 1987), based on an unlikely premise— government researchers want Brian to reenact his northwoods survival so that his strategies can be observed and taught to others. Derek, a young psychologist, and Brian are dropped off at another Canadian lake, near the first one, equipped only with knives and a radio that Derek has promised not to use except in a dire emergency. Everything goes all too smoothly until their camp is struck by lightning, zapping the radio and leaving Derek in a coma. Brian manages to float Derek 100 miles down a river to a trading post, thus saving his life. The lyrically described details of Brian's adventure— building a fire, making a raft—are of most interest here; for all its graphically evoked perils (rapids, the craft's unwieldiness, exhaustion), the journey's successful outcome seems less in doubt than did the outcome of the compelling autobiographical wilderness experiences described in Woodsong (1990). In Hatchet, Brian discovered his own strength, adding depth, complexity, and tension to the story; here, that strength is a given—as he himself points out. Perfunctory in design but vividly written, a book that will, as intended, please the readers who hoped that Paulsen, like Brian, would "do it again." (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: June 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-385-30388-2

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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