Two 12-year-old boys from opposite backgrounds become unlikely allies in second-century China when barbarians threaten to breach the Great Wall and invade the Han Kingdom. Hu and his family are running a humble noodle stall in imaginary Beicheng when Ren and his father, Commander Xheng, arrive to oversee repairs on the Wall. Good-natured Hu aspires to win an archery tournament to help his family while arrogant Ren hopes to impress the Commander with his skill. Surreptitiously, the boys practice together, but as threats of invasion increase, they are separated when Ren’s father sends him away and Hu is wrongfully arrested for stealing grain. As Ren risks everything to return and exonerate Hu, the boys find themselves in desperate circumstances amid enemy forces preparing to attack. Brimming with details of daily life in the Han Dynasty, this fast-paced story alternates in the third person between Hu and Ren, progressing from summer to spring as their fledgling friendship grows, falters and eventually endures through many adventures and misadventures during the exciting Year of the Tiger. (glossary of Chinese names and words, map, prologue, epilogue & historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2277-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2010

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Rich and strange of place and premise; suspenseful and thought-provoking.


An ancient inscription and a handful of inscrutable artifacts plunge three young people into both the War of 1812 and a much larger, older conflict.

Opening in Baltimore then moving on to the not-entirely-earthly town of Nagspeake (setting, in another era, of Milford’s Greenglass House, 2014), the tale centers on staid, methodical “natural philosopher” Max Ault; 12-year-old American naval officer Oliver Dexter; and fiery Lucy Bluecrowne, daughter of a renowned British privateer, captain of the titular ship. It pits them against both relentless French pursuers and mysterious men in black with eldritch abilities. The prize is a three-part device made thousands of years ago and said to be able to stop war…a superweapon, or so everyone (nearly everyone) presumes. Along with being replete with rousing chases, races, and violent explosions, the tale is uncommonly rich in memorable characters, from the central three, who all display stout hearts and hidden depths, to Lucy’s 9-year-old half brother, part-Chinese Liao: pacifist, expert lockpick, and fireworks genius extraordinaire. The labyrinthine Nagspeake itself is magical and vivid enough to serve as more than just a setting (and deservedly sports a metafictional website). Wheeler’s neatly turned monochromes capture the tale’s warmth and wonder, though (at least as she depicts it) the cast appears to be white, excepting Liao.

Rich and strange of place and premise; suspenseful and thought-provoking. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9800-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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A dysfunctional family in the neighborhood gives a young orphan new appreciation for her own abbreviated but loving household in this promising but uneven flashback. When the Wallings move across the street from Shanta Cola Morgan's Atlanta home during the last summer of WW II, she makes two quick friends: secretive Denise, nearly her own age, and Earl, a brain-damaged 21-year-old. Having been raised by her frail grandmother and Uncle Louie—who is nearly paralyzed by arthritis—Shanta envies Denise her parents, until she sees how joyless and cruel they are, and begins to suspect that the family is deeply troubled. Her suspicions are confirmed when she peeks into their cellar one night and finds Earl chained to a wall. Denise and Earl may be sketchily drawn, but Shanta and her grandmother are lively, loving spirits, and the quiet heroism with which Louie preserves hope and self-respect as both his body and his marriage disintegrate almost overshadows the main plot. Shanta frames this as a decades-old memory; despite the present- tense narration, the pacing is slow, and the efforts to draw parallels between the battles overseas and those closer to home are strained at best. Readers impressed by Oughton's Music From a Place Called Half Moon (1995) will find some equally vivid characters here, but may be disappointed by the low level of tension and a quick, too-tidy ending. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-395-81568-1

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1997

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