BOYS WITHOUT NAMES

The author returned to her native India to research this fictionalized exposé of child labor. Eleven-year-old Gopal and his family, deeply in debt, flee to Mumbai to find work. There, a slick older boy offers Gopal a factory job, then turns him over to a ruthless sweatshop operator. Locked inside a decrepit building with five other despairing boys, Gopal quickly learns the routine. Long days of gluing beads onto picture frames, little food, stifling heat and occasional severe beatings with a rubber hose all keep the boys intimidated. Determined to escape, Gopal befriends the others with his storytelling talents, building bonds that will be useful if an opportunity to flee arises. Gopal is a likable child, and insight into the others boys’ believable characters gradually evolves. Although the shocking conditions the boys endure are vividly and realistically depicted, this effort is overlong for the recommended audience of nine through 12, and many readers may give up before they reach the portion of the narrative where Gopal is imprisoned. An enlightening multicultural tale suggested for strong elementary readers and middle schoolers. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-185760-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2009

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BYSTANDER

Bullying is a topic that never lacks for interest, and here Preller concentrates on the kids who try to ignore or accommodate a bully to keep themselves safe. Victim David’s pain is evident from the first moment newcomer Eric sees him, but he tries not to acknowledge the reality before him. His mother is trying for a fresh start in this Long Island community, as his father has succumbed to schizophrenia and left her and their two boys on their own. Griffin, the bullying instigator, has charisma of sorts; he is a leader and yet suffers under his father’s bullying and aggression. For Eric to do the right thing is neither easy nor what he first wants to do, and the way he finds support among his classmates is shown in logical and believable small steps. Eminently discussable as a middle-school read-aloud, the narrative offers minimal subplots to detract from the theme. The role of girls is downplayed, except for classmate Mary, who is essential to the resolution, enhancing appeal across gender lines. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-37906-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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THE TIGER RISING

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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