WITNESS

In this stunning piece of little-known American history, Hesse (Stowaway, 2000, etc.) paints small-town Vermont on the brink of self-destruction circa 1924. The narrative poetry format has fitting roots in “The Spoon River Anthology.” Eleven characters speak revealingly for themselves to describe a year in which the Ku Klux Klan arrives, seduces many solid citizens, moves from intimidation to threat to violence, and is finally rejected by the tolerant, no-nonsense townsfolk. Central to the story are two children, one an African-American named Leanora, and the other, a Jewish fresh-air child from New York, named Esther. As targets of prejudice, the lives of both are affected by the actions of the KKK: Leanora is the victim of racist remarks and threats, and Esther sees her father shot while she’s sitting on his lap. The story is all the more haunting for its exquisite balance of complex and intersecting points of view on gender, ethnicity, politics, religion, and money. The setting is well developed through subtly embedded period details of everyday Vermont life (a broom sale creates a stampede) and incidents of national historical significance (the Leopold and Loeb trial). The voices of each character have a distinct resonance, but the voice of Esther, the moral center of the book, is memorable. It has a unique beauty and style created by Esther’s innocent and hopeful way of expression, but revealing of her immigrant roots in New York. This is carefully crafted, with Leanora, who evolves and grows in wisdom and understanding, being given the first and last word. What Copeland created with music, and Hopper created with paint, Hesse deftly and unerringly creates with words: the iconography of Americana, carefully researched, beautifully written, and profoundly honest. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-27199-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

NOWHERE BOY

A captivating book situated in present-day discourse around the refugee crisis, featuring two boys who stand by their high...

Two parallel stories, one of a Syrian boy from Aleppo fleeing war, and another of a white American boy, son of a NATO contractor, dealing with the challenges of growing up, intersect at a house in Brussels.

Ahmed lost his father while crossing the Mediterranean. Alone and broke in Europe, he takes things into his own hands to get to safety but ends up having to hide in the basement of a residential house. After months of hiding, he is discovered by Max, a boy of similar age and parallel high integrity and courage, who is experiencing his own set of troubles learning a new language, moving to a new country, and being teased at school. In an unexpected turn of events, the two boys and their new friends Farah, a Muslim Belgian girl, and Oscar, a white Belgian boy, successfully scheme for Ahmed to go to school while he remains in hiding the rest of the time. What is at stake for Ahmed is immense, and so is the risk to everyone involved. Marsh invites art and history to motivate her protagonists, drawing parallels to gentiles who protected Jews fleeing Nazi terror and citing present-day political news. This well-crafted and suspenseful novel touches on the topics of refugees and immigrant integration, terrorism, Islam, Islamophobia, and the Syrian war with sensitivity and grace.

A captivating book situated in present-day discourse around the refugee crisis, featuring two boys who stand by their high values in the face of grave risk and succeed in drawing goodwill from others. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-30757-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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