IT ONLY LOOKS EASY

Nothing could be more crucial than the start of seventh grade thinks Kat, but when Cheddar, the family dog is in a life-threatening accident, Kat goes off the rails. Normally well-behaved and responsible, Kat takes some shortcuts to get to the veterinary clinic that involves borrowing a bike and cutting school. The consequences are not so serious for cutting school, but the bike she borrows is stolen while Kat is getting the update on Cheddar. Kat never hesitates to admit her responsibility and her parents loan her the money until she can earn enough to pay for it herself. Kat’s friends, neighbors, and family are given small roles to play, yet are lively and help to flesh out this somewhat slight story. Once reassured that Cheddar will make it through his injuries, the notoriety of being accused of bike theft becomes the main conflict. A subplot related to the woman whose car hit Cheddar and also suffers from Alzheimer’s provides for some emotional eruptions as well as a few moments of introspection. However, rather than a rich blend of conflicts, the result is one that seems unfocused and scattered. The adults are mostly benevolent and wise; trusted to understand Kat, despite her own failures. An older sister is intriguingly sticky-fingered when it comes to Kat’s stuff, and their sibling exchanges provide the most consistently enjoyable dialogue. For light-hearted readers reluctant to truly examine moral conflicts, and wanting fiction that takes place in a safe world, this does the job. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7613-1790-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Roaring Brook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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Miah’s melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson’s previous books.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY

In a meditative interracial love story with a wrenching climactic twist, Woodson (The House You Pass on the Way, 1997, etc.) offers an appealing pair of teenagers and plenty of intellectual grist, before ending her story with a senseless act of violence.

Jeremiah and Elisha bond from the moment they collide in the hall of their Manhattan prep school: He’s the only child of celebrity parents; she’s the youngest by ten years in a large family. Not only sharply sensitive to the reactions of those around them, Ellie and Miah also discover depths and complexities in their own intense feelings that connect clearly to their experiences, their social environment, and their own characters. In quiet conversations and encounters, Woodson perceptively explores varieties of love, trust, and friendship, as she develops well-articulated histories for both families. Suddenly Miah, forgetting his father’s warning never to be seen running in a white neighborhood, exuberantly dashes into a park and is shot down by police. The parting thought that, willy-nilly, time moves on will be a colder comfort for stunned readers than it evidently is for Ellie.

Miah’s melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson’s previous books. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-399-23112-9

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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