A pleasant read, but more nuanced prose might have made it more compelling.

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STITCHING A LIFE

In this YA novel, a young Jewish woman and her family flee persecution and seek a better life in the bustle of turn-of-the-century Manhattan.

It’s the dawn of the 20th century, and by Russian imperial decree, all Jewish boys are forcibly drafted into the military at age 12—an edict that ruins lives and rips apart families. Hinde Breakstone, a teenage Lithuanian girl, is a member of one of those families, whose brother Max has only narrowly avoided conscription. After too many close calls, and with three more boys destined for military indenture, Hinde’s parents decide to move the family to the United States; Hinde’s father goes first and Hinde follows, in order to make enough money to bring the rest of the family over. After an arduous voyage, Hinde gets her first sight of Lady Liberty, and the idealistic and industrious girl renames herself “Helen” to embrace her new American identity. What follows are accounts of the protagonist’s years of diligent work as she acclimates to exciting new places, people, and concepts that were previously alien to her. Fein’s account of Helen’s story comes across as the archetypal immigrant experience: She finds a community, falls in love, and ultimately builds a life of prosperity and promise. It’s a sweet narrative, based on the real life of the author’s grandmother. However, it suffers from a lack of tension and conflict, even during incidents involving anti-Semitism, which should be harrowing. Helen is certainly an admirable character, but her struggles, as written, never feel palpable, as they’re easily and quickly resolved. The simple writing style often feels repetitive and saccharine, making the turning points in the main character’s life feel less powerful than they could have been.

A pleasant read, but more nuanced prose might have made it more compelling.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-677-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2020

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Fluid prose elucidates a life much stranger than fiction.

PROMISE THE NIGHT

MacColl's second novel brings to life the childhood of future aviator and writer Beryl Markham (Prisoners in the Palace, 2010).

Born Beryl Clutterbuck, she moved with her family to the highlands of Kenya as a toddler. Not long after, her mother and brother returned to England, abandoning her with her rough though loving father. MacColl's account begins when a leopard steals into Beryl's hut and attacks her dog—the child leaping from her bed to give chase. Though she loses the leopard in the night, the next morning, she and her new friend, a Nandi boy, Kibii, find the dog still alive and save it. Later she insists on being part of the hunt for the leopard. Young Beryl wants nothing more than to be a warrior, a murani, and to be able to leap higher than her own head. Her jumping skills progress apace, but young white girls, no matter how determined, cannot become part of the Nandi tribe. Her relationship with Kibii's father, the wise Arap Maina, along with a growing awareness of the consequences of her actions, help lead her into a more mature—though still wildly impulsive and daring—life. MacColl intersperses her third-person narrative with faux news reports and first-person diary entries of two decades later, when Beryl Markham became the first person—let alone woman—to fly a plane west from Europe to America.

Fluid prose elucidates a life much stranger than fiction. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8118-7625-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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THE TIME-TRAVELING FASHIONISTA AT THE PALACE OF MARIE ANTOINETTE

From the Time-Traveling Fashionista series , Vol. 2

Middle school girls obsessed with fashion will find an entertaining, painless history lesson in this light romp.

Louise, 12, envies her best friend, who is becoming an actual teenager. Worse, her dad has suddenly lost his job, so Louise won’t be going on her much-anticipated trip to France with her classmates. She consoles herself by indulging in her obsession, vintage fashion, at the exclusive traveling vintage-clothing store that has sent her another exclusive invitation. The last time she visited the peripatetic store, she wound up traveling back in time to the Titanic, and she wonders if she can take another trip. Of course she can, winding up in the court of 14-year-old Princess Marie Antoinette just after her marriage to Prince Louis. Louise finds herself in the persona of a Duchess called Gabrielle. The amazing excesses of the court astonish her, as, of course, does the fashion. However, she also learns about the appalling conditions of the people of France and tries to awaken Marie Antoinette to their misery. She remembers the lecture her history teacher gave her class about the French Revolution, but can’t recall just when it happened. Is Louise herself in personal danger? Turetsky delivers her enjoyable history lesson through the eyes of a girl who knows every major and minor fashion designer, a character sure to appeal to her target audience, as will the time-traveling theme. Appealing illustrations aid readers’ imaginations. 

Good fun. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-10538-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Poppy/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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