LOVE BY THE MORNING STAR

This lighthearted comedy set against a backdrop of gathering doom may be gutsy; it’s definitely odd.

Two young women are mistaken for each other in this romantic farce set in Europe in the run-up to World War II.

Hannah Morgernstern and Anna Morgan couldn’t be more different. One is the small, dark-haired half-Jewish daughter of bohemian cabaret owners in Germany; the other is the statuesque, blonde British beauty whose father belongs to the National Fascist Front. As each arrives at the legendary Starkers estate for, respectively, refuge and subterfuge, they are absurdly mischaracterized. Assumed to be the new kitchen maid and cowed by her fellow servants, Hannah never shares the story of her family’s distress and legitimate connections to Lord and Lady Liripip. Anna, originally expected to spy and worse for NAFF as that kitchen maid, takes advantage of the mistake, as both girls fall for Teddy, the only heir to the Liripip fortune. Evoking the spirits of P.G. Wodehouse, Preston Sturges and Shakespeare himself, Sullivan delights in leading readers through a jaunty muddle of romantic misfortunes. Yet the later allusions to Nazis and Hitler strain to be integrated emotionally, and the quirky, entertaining storyline ultimately runs out of steam, failing to match the balance of tone struck by Michelle Cooper in her Montmaray Journals.

This lighthearted comedy set against a backdrop of gathering doom may be gutsy; it’s definitely odd. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-547-68951-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

NEVER FALL DOWN

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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