THE SILENT BOY

Around her private trove of atmospheric old photographs, Newbery winner Lowry (The Giver, 1993; Number the Stars, 1990) spins a patchy but sensitive tale of a country doctor’s daughter observing the lives of those around her—in particular the women, and a mentally disabled teenager with a strong affinity for animals. Writing as an older adult, Katy looks back to 1911, the year she first became aware of the new hired girl’s brother Jacob. “Touched by God,” according to his mother, dubbed “imbecile” by ruder locals, Jacob never speaks, does not go to school, and never makes eye contact. But he ably helps to care for the livestock on his family’s farm, whether it be with routine milking, or the delicate task of persuading a ewe to accept a lamb rejected by its own mother. Taking her cue from the steady, tolerant adults around her, Katy treats him with respect, learning to be comfortable around him in their occasional meetings, and even to understand him a little. Jacob passes in and out of view as other events, from the arrival of a new baby in her household, to the planning of her ninth birthday party, not only absorb more of Katy's attention, but give her narrative an episodic structure; several of the characters, in fact, seem constructed more to flesh out the photos at their heads than to advance the story. Jacob's story ends in a tragedy deftly foreshadowed. Katy wraps up the loose ends by describing what became of the other major characters. Though well-crafted and narrated by a perceptive, large-hearted child who goes on to follow in her father’s profession, this lacks the focus of Lowry’s best work. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 28, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-28231-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Walter Lorraine/Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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Miah’s melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson’s previous books.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY

In a meditative interracial love story with a wrenching climactic twist, Woodson (The House You Pass on the Way, 1997, etc.) offers an appealing pair of teenagers and plenty of intellectual grist, before ending her story with a senseless act of violence.

Jeremiah and Elisha bond from the moment they collide in the hall of their Manhattan prep school: He’s the only child of celebrity parents; she’s the youngest by ten years in a large family. Not only sharply sensitive to the reactions of those around them, Ellie and Miah also discover depths and complexities in their own intense feelings that connect clearly to their experiences, their social environment, and their own characters. In quiet conversations and encounters, Woodson perceptively explores varieties of love, trust, and friendship, as she develops well-articulated histories for both families. Suddenly Miah, forgetting his father’s warning never to be seen running in a white neighborhood, exuberantly dashes into a park and is shot down by police. The parting thought that, willy-nilly, time moves on will be a colder comfort for stunned readers than it evidently is for Ellie.

Miah’s melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson’s previous books. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-399-23112-9

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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