Erskine redeems many faults with a clear passion for racial justice and hope for change.

SEEING RED

Big changes are coming to small-town Virginia in 1972.

Inheriting not just his great-great-grandfather’s name, but his hair color too, 12-year-old Frederick Stewart Porter, aka Red, is grieving his father’s recent death. His mother wants to sell the family auto shop and generations-old Porter land to move closer to her relatives in Ohio. Red’s plan to thwart the sale becomes waylaid, however, by prejudice and family secrets. In his reflective, first-person narration tinged by references to pop culture of the time, he unknowingly joins a Klan-like group, which alienates him from his black, once–best friend, Thomas. As Red connects with Thomas’ great-grandmother Miss Georgia, he vows to find the land that once held a historic African-American church. His search inadvertently uncovers a mysterious map from the past, his family’s involvement in the church’s demise and even his namesake’s role in a murder. It also raises Red’s awareness of racial inequality and the meanings of legacy and family. There’s a lot going on, much of it clearly written to convey lessons. Add a teacher who encourages questioning authority, a bitter, generations-long dispute with violent neighbors, and a budding romance, and readers have a borderline didactic novel that raises too many issues with resolutions that are too quick. Still, there’s no question the author’s heart is in the right place.

Erskine redeems many faults with a clear passion for racial justice and hope for change. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-545-46440-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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