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This novel may mean well, but it fails to find a balance between romance and the reality of regime change

An American teen visiting her Egyptian grandmother in Cairo witnesses the beginnings of the Arab Spring movement.

After being caught at a wild high school party, Mariam and her best friend, Deanna, are sent to spend the remaining five months of the school year with her conservative grandmother in Egypt. Mariam dreads her grandmother’s legendary strictness: “[F]rom the stories my baba [father] has told me…I would probably have more freedom in jail.” But Deanna, who “loves anything Egyptian,” immediately embraces the adventure. (Deanna’s tastes run toward romance novels featuring stereotypical illustrations of “pseudo-Arab lover boy[s]” on the covers.) Mariam’s initial mockery of her friend’s books later becomes ironic when the plot begins to center more heavily on romantic entanglements than the rebellion against President Hosni Mubarak. By the end of the teens’ stay in Egypt (which ends up being a mere five days), both girls have found boyfriends for themselves and a love match for the grandmother. The timeline makes the many musings on true love more mawkish than believable. Meanwhile, there are so few scenes about the demonstrations in Tahrir Square or meaningful conversations about the political landscape that readers will develop little sense of the historical significance of the real Egyptian rebellion.

This novel may mean well, but it fails to find a balance between romance and the reality of regime change . (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4926-0138-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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In Nina's world, children have GPS trackers until they turn 18, and surveillance satellites monitor for subversive talk. Tight control stands between young women and a threatening sexuality; at 16, teenage girls get tattooed with their age and become fair game. Fifteen-year-old Nina, unlike her friends, dreads becoming “sex-teen.” Her life is too confusing without extra complications: Her mother's just died, and Nina's half sister Dee might be legally claimed by her father to be a servant—or worse. How does the cute boy who might be a member of the resistance fit into Nina's life? And had Nina's mother been part of the resistance herself? Nina doesn't want to get involved, but she needs to protect Dee. A large suspension of disbelief is required for the dysfunctional gender politics. (How did the situation get so broken? How do teenage boys and girls manage to be friends when they're only weeks or months away from effectively legal rape?) Otherwise, a fun little thriller for the abstinence romantics. (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-14-241771-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Speak/Penguin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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