A fine, taut novel full of understanding.

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NOW

Once and Then (2010, 2011) blend into Now in today's Australia as Dr. Felix Salinger, 80, relates his childhood and shows his present to his 11-year-old granddaughter, narrator Zelda.

What occurs in their todays smoothly links the old story of Felix's horrific childhood in Nazi-controlled Poland with sometimes-happy, sometimes-unpleasant events in a small bush town. The girl is staying with Felix because her physician parents are in Darfur to help its people through a modern genocidal catastrophe. Local girls bully Zelda in the opening scene, and readers should be shocked and frightened by this experience. When Felix meets the bullies, in his anger he says, "Don't you know anything?"—a sharp echo of the very young Zelda of decades ago. Today's Zelda is named for her, but it is a weight, since the girl of the present feels she cannot live up to that other, long-dead girl, hanged by the Germans for an act of defiance that allowed Felix to escape the noose. A bush fire of horrendous size, fury and speed tests the mettle of the two, and Gleitzman's description of it is brilliant in its realism. Readers of the first two books will recognize a great deal, and those who have not should read them to gain a fuller picture of the years before and those in which we live. 

A fine, taut novel full of understanding. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9378-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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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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Bleak and, unfortunately, not particularly compelling.

KATE'S RING

A Canadian girl endures hardship and struggles in her 14th year.

Kate’s the oldest of six children in a Catholic family living in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in 1925. Ever since her mother came down with tuberculosis a year ago, her father’s been drinking the family into ruin. When he loses his job as a bakery delivery driver, the family relocates to his parents’ remote farm, then returns as her mother’s health worsens. And then another catastrophe strikes. Kate tries to keep charge of her siblings, but eventually they’re farmed out to other family members, and Kate’s father sells the titular ring, which was her mother’s. Much happens, and the characters move around a lot, but they never really come to life—Kate’s brothers in particular seem interchangeable—and a lot of the emotion in the story feels forced. Though the action is told from Kate’s first-person perspective, readers never fully understand what she most deeply wants, or why, and while the setting is carefully drawn, it feels more like a memory than a lived-in place. Kate’s voice is appropriately antique: Her mother’s illness is “consumption,” she has a “pal” named Grace, and she is mindful of “proper” behavior. All characters adhere to a white default.

Bleak and, unfortunately, not particularly compelling. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-88995-567-7

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Red Deer Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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