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

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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