An honest, bleak account of a national tragedy sure to inspire discussion and research.

UPSIDE DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE

As Armani Curtis’ 10th birthday approaches, so does something far more ominous—a threatening storm in the Gulf of Mexico called Katrina.

Armani’s family, residents of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, doesn’t have much in the way of material comforts, but they certainly have a strong and happy family, at least until Katrina blows in. During Armani’s birthday party, the family is informed that the mayor has ordered an evacuation, but lacking the means to escape New Orleans, they must simply hunker down until the floodwaters force them to the roof. First, Armani’s beloved grandmother dies, and then her father and brother are swept away by the floodwaters. When the rest of the Curtis clan makes its way to the Superdome, Mama must seek help for her sick baby boy, leaving Armani to get her two little sisters to a shelter until the family can be reunited. A couple of false notes notwithstanding, Lamana goes for and achieves realism here, carefully establishing the characters and setting before describing in brutal detail, beyond what is typical in youth literature, the devastating effects of Katrina—loss of multiple family members, reports of attacks in the Superdome, bodies drifting in the current and less-than-ideal shelter conditions.

An honest, bleak account of a national tragedy sure to inspire discussion and research. (Historical fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: April 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4521-2456-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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Japanese-American Aki and her family operate an asparagus farm in Westminster, Calif., until they are summarily uprooted and...

SYLVIA & AKI

Two third-grade girls in California suffer the dehumanizing effects of racial segregation after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in 1942 in this moving story based on true events in the lives of Sylvia Mendez and Aki Munemitsu.

Japanese-American Aki and her family operate an asparagus farm in Westminster, Calif., until they are summarily uprooted and dispatched to an internment camp in Poston, Ariz., for the duration of World War II. As Aki endures the humiliation and deprivation of the hot, cramped barracks, she wonders if there’s “something wrong with being Japanese.” Sylvia’s Mexican-American family leases the Munemitsu farm. She expects to attend the local school but faces disappointment when authorities assign her to a separate, second-rate school for Mexican kids. In response, Sylvia’s father brings a legal action against the school district arguing against segregation in what eventually becomes a successful landmark case. Their lives intersect after Sylvia finds Aki’s doll, meets her in Poston and sends her letters. Working with material from interviews, Conkling alternates between Aki and Sylvia’s stories, telling them in the third person from the war’s start in 1942 through its end in 1945, with an epilogue updating Sylvia’s story to 1955.

Pub Date: July 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-58246-337-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Tricycle

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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