A subtle, haunting debut.

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NEVERTELL

Born in a gulag, 12-year-old Lina has known only deprivation, pain, and cold, but a daring escape proves that the outside world holds more mystery than she could have ever imagined.

Everyone inside the wire knows that the chances of surviving an escape are minimal. But when plucky Lina is drawn into a madcap breakout scheme, she agrees to help; her best friend, Bogdan, determined to protect Lina, follows. Both children are desperate to reconnect with lost family and forge new lives outside. Their escape is thwarted at every turn, however, by mythic elements from forbidden tales that turn out to be frighteningly real: hidden powers, ghost hounds, and a preternaturally omnipresent sorceress possessing both a fanatical vendetta and a heart-wrenching secret. Orton weaves a somewhat far-fetched tale, seemingly drawing more on fantasy of her own devising than on Russia’s own rich folklore. As a result, the two salient aspects of the story—the Stalinist-era purges and prison camps and the magic—never fully cohere, and small gaps in believability tarnish what could have been a fascinating story. Although the story is rife with interesting personalities, Orton does little to flesh them out, and the limited third-person narration does little to advance the development of characters other than Lina. The story is largely redeemed, however, by some truly beautiful images and relationships; the warm friendship between Bogdan and Lina is a particular delight. Lina is literally Caucasian; Bogdan is Tuvan. Cai’s scratchy, flowing chapter heads enhance the fantastical atmosphere.

A subtle, haunting debut. (Historical fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0712-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the...

TUCK EVERLASTING

At a time when death has become an acceptable, even voguish subject in children's fiction, Natalie Babbitt comes through with a stylistic gem about living forever. 

Protected Winnie, the ten-year-old heroine, is not immortal, but when she comes upon young Jesse Tuck drinking from a secret spring in her parents' woods, she finds herself involved with a family who, having innocently drunk the same water some 87 years earlier, haven't aged a moment since. Though the mood is delicate, there is no lack of action, with the Tucks (previously suspected of witchcraft) now pursued for kidnapping Winnie; Mae Tuck, the middle aged mother, striking and killing a stranger who is onto their secret and would sell the water; and Winnie taking Mae's place in prison so that the Tucks can get away before she is hanged from the neck until....? Though Babbitt makes the family a sad one, most of their reasons for discontent are circumstantial and there isn't a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from their fate or Winnie's decision not to share it. 

However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the first week in August when this takes place to "the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning") help to justify the extravagant early assertion that had the secret about to be revealed been known at the time of the action, the very earth "would have trembled on its axis like a beetle on a pin." (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0312369816

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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A quirky sci-fi adventure with a surprising layer of political irony.

WE'RE NOT FROM HERE

Who knew the survival of the human race would depend on fitting in at school?

With Earth destroyed, humans have successfully petitioned Planet Choom to take them in as refugees. Narrator Lan Mifune and their family (Lan is never gendered in the text) travel there, arriving to a surprise. During the 20-year journey in bio-suspension asleep, Choom’s government has changed, along with their acceptance of humans, and they are asked to leave immediately. With no other alternative, Lan’s mom, Amora Persaud, who’s on the ship’s Governing Council, is able to negotiate a trial run, in which the Mifune family will prove humans can peacefully assimilate. Being the new kid at school is tough anywhere, but on Choom, Lan must navigate the cultures of the werewolflike Kriks; Ororos, who resemble giant marshmallows; and the Zhuri, who resemble giant mosquitoes and express emotions by secreting specific scents. Things get complicated when the Zhuri government executes a smear campaign against humans even as some privately believe humans can be peaceful if given the chance. It’s up to Lan and their family to prove humans can contribute to society. Rodkey deftly mirrors recent debates about refugees and immigrants, twisting them into a black comedy–sci-fi mashup. Racial and ethnic diversity is purposely shown solely through names, hinting via surname that Lan’s family shares mixed Japanese and Indian heritage. The abrupt resolution might leave some in disbelief, but that’s a small price to pay.

A quirky sci-fi adventure with a surprising layer of political irony. (Science fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-7304-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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