In pre-Civil Rights rural Alabama, Francie goes to school and works, helping her mother as a maid for white families in town. Her father has gone to Chicago to find work and has promised to send for them, but he keeps postponing it. Meanwhile, Jesse, a boy whom she has tutored in school, is unjustly accused of attacking a white man, and Francie’s efforts to help him endanger her family and the other families around her. Francie’s life is portrayed as one of cruel poverty, and her patient, stalwart mother is devastated when the latest letter from her father disappoints them yet again. After the family’s long, agonizing wait, repeatedly emphasized, it’s quite a surprise—to readers, too—when her mother suddenly comes up with the money, not only to move the whole family to Chicago, but to buy them new clothes before they leave. This inexplicable ending mars an otherwise compelling story about the sheer exhaustion, fear, and frustration suffered by many poor African-Americans in the rural south. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 1999

ISBN: 0-374-32456-5

Page Count: 199

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Newcomer Santoro’s story of the ice cream truck that pined for a more important role in life suffers from a premise that’s well-worn and still fraying—the person or object that longs to be something “more” in life, only to find out that his or its lot in life is enough, after all. Isaac the ice cream truck envies all the bigger, larger, more important vehicles he encounters (the big wheels are depicted as a rude lot, sullen, surly, and snarling, hardly a group to excite much envy) in a day, most of all the fire trucks and their worthy occupants. When Isaac gets that predictable boost to his self-image—he serves up ice cream to over-heated firefighters after a big blaze—it comes as an unmistakable putdown to the picture-book audience: the children who cherished Isaac—“They would gather around him, laughing and happy”—weren’t reason enough for him to be contented. Santoro equips the tale with a tune of Isaac’s very own, and retro scenes in tropical-hued colored pencil that deftly convey the speed of the trucks with skating, skewed angles. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: May 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-5296-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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