A satisfying story of family, friendship and small-town cooperation in a 21st-century world.

THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF MIKE

Sent to stay with octogenarian relatives for the summer, 14-year-old Mike ends up coordinating a community drive to raise $40,000 for the adoption of a Romanian orphan. He’ll never be his dad's kind of engineer, but he learns he’s great at human engineering.

Mike’s math learning disability is matched by his widower father's lack of social competence; the Giant Genius can’t even reliably remember his son’s name. Like many of the folks the boy comes to know in Do Over, Penn.—his great-uncle Poppy silent in his chair, the multiply pierced-and-tattooed Gladys from the bank and “a homeless guy” who calls himself Past—Mike feels like a failure. But in spite of his own lack of confidence, he provides the kick start they need to cope with their losses and contribute to the campaign. Using the Internet (especially YouTube), Mike makes use of town talents and his own webpage design skills and entrepreneurial imagination. Math-definition chapter headings (Compatible Numbers, Zero Property, Tessellations) turn out to apply well to human actions in this well-paced, first-person narrative. Erskine described Asperger’s syndrome from the inside in Mockingbird (2010). Here, it’s a likely cause for the rift between father and son touchingly mended at the novel's cinematic conclusion.

A satisfying story of family, friendship and small-town cooperation in a 21st-century world. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: June 9, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-25505-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2011

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

MAPPING THE BONES

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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Readers who don’t need endings tied up with tight little bows will find much to think about here.

INFINITE SKY

Tragedy emerges from the commonplace miseries of everyday life in this evocative mood piece.

Thirteen-year-old Iris lives with her dad and older brother, Sam, in rural England. Until recently, Iris and Sam had a mum as well, but she’s taken off to Tunisia on a mission to find herself. Now Sam’s associating with ruffians, Dad’s taken to drinking, and Iris is avoiding her best friend, unable to bear the smug pity. When a few caravans of Irish “travelers” squat illegally in Dad’s paddock, Iris sees the possibility of something fresh and untainted in her life. But Dad and Sam loathe the travelers, calling them “Gypsies,” “parasites” and worse. Iris strikes up a friendship—and maybe more?—with 14-year-old Trick, but her father becomes increasingly erratic as he sees his control over his family slipping away. Her Dad repeatedly threatens eviction, and Iris must decide whom to believe in the face of petty crime. A senseless act of violence leads to heavily foreshadowed tragedy. This brief, gloomy debut concludes tidily though with an unclear trajectory: After a summer’s adventure, everyone’s right where they started yet nothing’s the same, mirroring the intransigence of hate.

Readers who don’t need endings tied up with tight little bows will find much to think about here. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4814-0658-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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