The emotional roller coaster of a contemporary white family in crisis, tempered by a touch of magic and a resilient, likable...

SKELETON TREE

When white, zombie-obsessed, 12-year-old Stanly discovers a human skeleton growing up from his backyard—beginning as a single fingertip—he sees opportunity.

Photographing and writing about this, he reasons, may lead to winning the Young Discoverer’s Prize, which will bring Dad back from 1,500 miles away, and then his little sister, Miren, might stop getting sicker. This ambitious debut story of magical thinking keeps a mostly light tone despite the worsening gravity of Miren’s health throughout. It is peppered with whimsical asides and anatomical jokes in addition to homespun tales from Ms. Francine, part-time cook and child care helper from Kyrgyzstan. Stanly tries to keep his (literally) growing secret confined to his OCD–diagnosed best friend, Jaxon (who has a “cloud of black hair” but is otherwise racially unidentified). Miren quickly finds out, but although she can’t keep a secret, overworked, underpaid, and worried Mom is literally unable to see the skeleton, dubbed Princy by Miren. Conversely, the wise, folkloric Ms. Francine reacts, from the first phalangeal breakthrough, “like she was remembering something sad and happy all at once.” The close-third-person narrative doggedly expresses Stanly’s struggles with conflicting thoughts and emotions—but also keeps action rolling. Stanly copes well with problems ranging from the mundane (ineffectual cameras) to the extraordinary (photographing an evasive skeleton) to the heart-wrenching (a gravely ill sister; burdened parents).

The emotional roller coaster of a contemporary white family in crisis, tempered by a touch of magic and a resilient, likable protagonist. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-338-04270-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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