Pretty, popular Lori, 14, feels that just about all she has in common with her fat, slow, older brother Chuck is their mother, their father having died eight years ago. Even this shared connection seems pretty hollow to Lori, as their mother, an inspirational speaker, is on the road more often than not, leaving Lori, Chuck, and their three younger siblings at home with their grandparents in rural Ohio. The prospect of two weeks on tour with her mother, then, with Chuck in tow, is not her idea of a good time. The progress of this story is entirely predictable: Chuck and Lori each learn more about themselves and their mother; the increasing tension among all three characters comes to a head at the end of the trip; and they have a therapeutic air-clearing in which all psychological wounds are salved and the way is laid for more healthy relationships to begin to grow. While the resolution is never in doubt, the narrative technique that takes the reader there makes it worth the while. The third-person narration alternates between Chuck and Lori, and Haddix (Among the Impostors, p. 660, etc.) deftly creates two entirely distinct voices: Lori, an impatient, self-absorbed teen whose resentment toward her mother is palpable, and Chuck, a boy whose sense of self-worth is so low it is painful to witness. Their mother is occasionally allowed to break in with her own self-justifications, which, while they are psychologically consistent and serve to keep the plot moving, do not ring as true as the kids’ narratives. Don’t read this for the plot; read it for the sensitive explorations of character and emotion in a family under stress. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-689-83299-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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