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GATHERING THE DEW

In this historical first-person narrative, Nakri Sokha, a 12-year-old girl living in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in 1975, has her world shattered overnight. A day that starts with Nakri’s classical dance class ends with heavy bombing. By the next morning, the Sokha family wakes to find their city taken over by communist Khmer Rouge. Nakri and her older sister, Teeda, are sent to one refugee camp, her older brother to another. Her father, a teacher, is taken away by the Khmer Rouge and killed for being too educated while Nakri’s mother is forced to stay behind with her younger brother. Readers follow Nakri and her sister to the work camp and watch painfully as they struggle to overcome the starvation and physical abuse. Nakri manages to keep herself alive, but Teeda dies from malaria. When the Khmer Rouge is dismantled four years later, Nakri reunites with her family and they flee to America. When the family settles in Philadelphia, Nakri, through her love of classical dance, is finally able to process her tremendous grief as she adjusts to the strange excesses of American life. Ho’s (Maples in the Mist, 1996, etc.) narrative, arranged in four compact parts, manages to cover a lot of ground, but never strays from the intimacy of Nakri’s strong, but vulnerable, voice. Teeda also shines as Nakri’s idealistic and talented older sister, though the other family members lack emotional depth. The author takes on this shocking slice of world history with the appropriate amount of detail and sensitivity for a young audience, but the difficult subject matter makes it better suited for more mature readers. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-439-38197-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point.

After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin.

The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyne’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice.

Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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NEVER FALL DOWN

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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