Sheds light on a fascinating episode in history but sadly does not do justice to the nuances.

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UNDER THE BROKEN SKY

Twelve-year-old Natsu lives with her father and 6-year-old sister, Asa, in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in northern China.

Kachan died while giving birth to Asa, so when Tochan is conscripted to support Japan’s failing war effort, Auntie, an older neighbor, moves in—but the summer of 1945 brings the Soviet invasion. The settlers set off on foot toward the city of Harbin. Facing harsh weather, angry Chinese villagers, bullets from Soviet planes, hunger, and exhaustion, many die along the way. Harbin is filled with desperate Japanese, and Natsu begs on the streets, dreaming of finding Tochan. Some parents kill their own children, believing that a more merciful fate; others sell them to Chinese or Russians, hoping they will at least be fed and cared for. Unfortunately, the characters and their relationships feel static and two-dimensional in Natsu’s free-verse narration, limiting the emotional impact. The historical note troublingly compares the plight of Japanese settlers who took over Chinese land and whose government inflicted appalling atrocities on the local population (glossed over in the book) to refugees such as those from Rwanda and Syria. Readers may struggle to make sense of a scene in which Natsu and Asa aggressively confront a hungry Chinese boy. The suffering of the Japanese settlers—duped and abandoned by their country—and the suffering of the Chinese they displaced are not fully contextualized.

Sheds light on a fascinating episode in history but sadly does not do justice to the nuances. (afterword) (Historical verse fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-15921-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking.

TEEN KILLERS CLUB

An accused murderer is thrust into an assassin training program.

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere is serving hard time after a hazy night with her former best friend, Rose, which ended with Rose’s body in her lap, an emotional trial, and the media moniker the “Girl from Hell.” After her caseworker, Dave, assures Signal there’s no way she’ll get a successful appeal, he offers her an alternative: being shipped off to a mysterious camp and enrolled in a top-secret government training program unofficially known as the Teen Killers Club. There, Signal and other adolescent Class A felons (the most dangerous kind) undergo various drills—among them, dismembering fake corpses and dissolving flesh in acid—in preparation for eventually being used as assassins against government targets. The teens have been injected with a device remotely controlled by their trainers that will kill them if they attempt to escape the camp or otherwise disobey orders. As Signal nurses an attraction to sensitive tattooed Javier and fights her feelings for handsome sociopath Erik, she begins to piece together what really happened that night with Rose. Sparks crafts a page-turner with a disturbingly unusual premise, snappy dialogue, and characters that go deeper than their heinous crimes. Signal and Erik are assumed White; love interest Javier is cued as Latinx, and there is some diversity in the supporting cast.

A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking. (Thriller. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64385-229-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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An outstanding new edition of this popular modern classic (Newbery Award, 1961), with an introduction by Zena Sutherland and...

ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS

Coming soon!!

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1990

ISBN: 0-395-53680-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2000

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