DEN OF THE WHITE FOX

Set in 16th-century feudal Japan, a slow, uninvolving episode in the adventures of two wandering samurai previously met in Namioka's The Coming of the Bear (1992). A mysterious figure in a white fox mask is fomenting rebellion in a misty, newly annexed valley—intending, it turns out, not to throw out the small occupying force, but to steal its payroll and leave the locals to their fate. Enter unemployed ronin (masterless samurai) Zenta and Matsuzo, who discover that they've been cleverly maneuvered only after helping with the heist, but do manage to recover the gold, thus saving the valley's residents from slaughter. The contrast between impulsive Matsuzo and his crafty, saturnine mentor Zenta plays as well as ever, but that's all that works here: The pace never picks up after the hookless, sluggish opening scene; readers expecting suspense, heroics, authentic atmosphere, or at least some action will come away disappointed; and the fleeting appearance of a second, possibly supernatural White Fox is as forced as the attraction that develops between Zenta and Kinu, daughter of a once-noble clan and the valley's secret jujitsu instructor. The criminal mastermind's escape at the end implies his return in future adventures, but the series is plainly running out of steam. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-15-201282-6

Page Count: 213

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1997

PRIVATE PEACEFUL

From England’s Children’s Laureate, a searing WWI-era tale of a close extended family repeatedly struck by adversity and injustice. On vigil in the trenches, 17-year-old Thomas Peaceful looks back at a childhood marked by guilt over his father’s death, anger at the shabby treatment his strong-minded mother receives from the local squire and others—and deep devotion to her, to his brain-damaged brother Big Joe, and especially to his other older brother Charlie, whom he has followed into the army by lying about his age. Weaving telling incidents together, Morpurgo surrounds the Peacefuls with mean-spirited people at home, and devastating wartime experiences on the front, ultimately setting readers up for a final travesty following Charlie’s refusal of an order to abandon his badly wounded brother. Themes and small-town class issues here may find some resonance on this side of the pond, but the particular cultural and historical context will distance the story from American readers—particularly as the pace is deliberate, and the author’s hints about where it’s all heading are too rare and subtle to create much suspense. (Fiction. 11-13, adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-439-63648-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

DEAD END IN NORVELT

Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

An exhilarating summer marked by death, gore and fire sparks deep thoughts in a small-town lad not uncoincidentally named “Jack Gantos.”

The gore is all Jack’s, which to his continuing embarrassment “would spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames” whenever anything exciting or upsetting happens. And that would be on every other page, seemingly, as even though Jack’s feuding parents unite to ground him for the summer after several mishaps, he does get out. He mixes with the undertaker’s daughter, a band of Hell’s Angels out to exact fiery revenge for a member flattened in town by a truck and, especially, with arthritic neighbor Miss Volker, for whom he furnishes the “hired hands” that transcribe what becomes a series of impassioned obituaries for the local paper as elderly town residents suddenly begin passing on in rapid succession. Eventually the unusual body count draws the—justified, as it turns out—attention of the police. Ultimately, the obits and the many Landmark Books that Jack reads (this is 1962) in his hours of confinement all combine in his head to broaden his perspective about both history in general and the slow decline his own town is experiencing.

Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-37993-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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