STRAYDOG

A horror novelist for adults (Extremities, 1998, etc.) tries a different tack with this whiny but intense girl-meets-dog (and boy) story. Volunteering at an animal shelter, prickly loner Rachel finds a kindred spirit in the newly arrived, savagely feral dog she dubs “Grrl.” A compulsive writer, Rachel is inspired to work on a nightmarish, dog’s-eye view of street life that her creative-writing teacher urges her to finish and submit to a competition; meanwhile, Rachel is making another connection, this time with Griffin, a withdrawn new classmate. After some wary circling, Griffin offers his backyard as a pen for Grrl—but Rachel returns to the shelter to discover that Grrl’s already been euthanized. Though she tends toward trite self-analysis (“What do you do when you’re too smart for the freaks, but too much of a freak for the smart kids?”) and is given to tirades about her parents’ character flaws, people who don’t spay their pets, and like topics, Rachel’s emotional intensity, conveyed both in her fierce narrative and in long passages from her story, is compelling enough to draw readers along. Less compelling is the ending, in which Griffin snaps her out of a bout of wild, destructive grief, and the two adopt another, friendlier, stray dog. Still, fans of tales about teen writers, or stories with animal themes, will pant after this. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: April 12, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-37278-0

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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THE DARK PORTAL

Popular in England but never before published in America, the first book of Jarvis’s fantasy trilogy depicts an epic battle between good and evil. The side of good is represented by a society of harmonious, quiet-living mice who are aided and abetted by the more spiritual and mysterious bats above. Together they fight the evil, filthy rats, denizens of the dark and slimy sewers, who are ruled by a demonic overlord named Jupiter. The battle begins when a young mouse named Audrey Brown bravely slips between the bars of the basement grate, the portal between the mouse and rat universe, to search for her father, who has met with misadventure and disappeared into the hellish world beneath. As the stakes rise, Jarvis ratchets up the suspense, neatly juggling several story lines that culminate in a remarkable climactic disclosure. He does a good job, especially through the dialogue, of differentiating the multitude of mice, rat, and bat characters that populate the book. Still, the characters lack that elusive quality of lovability that makes the reader care deeply about their fate. Moreover, although the simultaneously symbolic and literal three-tiered world of bats, mice, and rats is well imagined and beautifully detailed, the narrative is rather dense, causing the book’s story engine to flag at several points. Although not right for every reader, Jarvis has delivered a robust book with a big-canvas plot that is tailor made for lovers of fantasy adventure and animal characters. (cast of characters, afterword) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-58717-021-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: NorthSouth

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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MEGIDDO’S SHADOW

What would it be like to have your faith in God and country tested in the Holy Land itself? Sixteen-year-old Canadian Edward Bathe has already lost his brother Hector in World War I, and now he feels it’s his duty to serve. He abandons his ailing father and heads off to war, ending up in Palestine to fight the Turks. The war shatters Edward’s faith, and when he returns home and enters his old church, he whispers to the carving of Jesus on the cross, “I walked where you walked, and I didn’t see you anywhere.” The narrative takes its time in getting Edward to Palestine, but when he enters battle on his beloved horse Buke, the scenes are every bit as exciting as any movie spectacle. Though additional historical context would have provided depth to the story, rousing action and characters to care about yield a memorable tale. A good match with Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful (2003). (map, author’s note) (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-74701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2006

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