A tale that effectively illuminates a child’s growing sensibility but paints a problematic portrait of a nanny.


In Rivver’s debut historical YA novel, a white Southern girl with a distant, depressed mother grows closer to her family’s African-American housekeeper/nanny.

As the story opens, it’s June 1965, and 10-year-old Gracie Callaway often feels shut out by her mother, Sadie, a busy and dedicated social worker for the Monroe County Welfare Department. Seeing her clients’ helpless poverty has worn Sadie down, and she often comes home frazzled, withdrawn, and easily annoyed by her four fairly well-behaved children. As Gracie puts it, “Momma stayed tangled up these days, and the quiet between us was beginning to get right loud.” But Ida Bell, a motherly African-American woman who provides household help, gives Gracie loving attention, encouragement, and support: “My heart didn’t ache quite so bad for Momma, what with Ida Bell right here and all,” the little girl narrates. As Sadie becomes more critical and controlling, Gracie longs for guidance and turns to Bible verses. When her parents decide to leave Monroe County, Gracie conceives a plan to stay behind with Ida Bell, and in the process of executing it, she matures and gains a wider perspective. Rivver honestly and insightfully describes the effect on children when a parent is struggling. She ably brings out Gracie’s hurt feelings, untinged with self-pity, while also managing to convey Sadie’s strengths. The narration and dialogue add color with homespun, folksy diction, as when Gracie describes her brother Will: “His face was happy as a tick on a fat dog.” However, the white child and black nanny at the story’s center is something of a cliché, and the book’s presentation pays little attention to the realities of Ida Bell’s hard work and long hours, or of the racism that she faces in society. Overall, her character is underdeveloped; she’s always cheerful, and she even tap-dances down the street “like the famous vaudeville tap dancer, Bojangles.” Another problematic aspect is that a white girl seems more central to Ida Bell’s life than her own children and grandchildren, who are barely mentioned.

A tale that effectively illuminates a child’s growing sensibility but paints a problematic portrait of a nanny.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9961357-7-1

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Green Writers Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2019

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Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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Paulsen recalls personal experiences that he incorporated into Hatchet (1987) and its three sequels, from savage attacks by moose and mosquitoes to watching helplessly as a heart-attack victim dies. As usual, his real adventures are every bit as vivid and hair-raising as those in his fiction, and he relates them with relish—discoursing on “The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition,” for instance: “Something that you would never consider eating, something completely repulsive and ugly and disgusting, something so gross it would make you vomit just looking at it, becomes absolutely delicious if you’re starving.” Specific examples follow, to prove that he knows whereof he writes. The author adds incidents from his Iditarod races, describes how he made, then learned to hunt with, bow and arrow, then closes with methods of cooking outdoors sans pots or pans. It’s a patchwork, but an entertaining one, and as likely to win him new fans as to answer questions from his old ones. (Autobiography. 10-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-32650-5

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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