ALL THE WAY HOME

It is the summer of 1941. Mariel, a victim of polio, lives in Brooklyn with her “almost mother” Loretta, who had been her nurse in a hospital in Windy Hill. Now Mariel is learning to adjust to her crippled legs, neighborhood prejudice, and her own fear of being unable to live a normal life. Loretta constantly encourages Mariel to keep trying, telling her of President Roosevelt’s battle with polio. Brick comes to live with Loretta, his mother’s best friend, when his family has to give up their farm in Windy Hill. Brick feels responsible for the loss because he had helped to save his neighbors’ orchard from a fire, but was not able to save his own. Both children have compelling reasons to return to Windy Hill. Brick needs to help the neighbor pick his apple crop or his farm would be lost also. Mariel needs to put a name and face to her vague memories of her mother. Giff weaves these elements into a moving story of friendship, love, and need. And through it all the characters follow the achievements of the Brooklyn Dodgers, whose tenacity after so many years of failure gains them the pennant and helps Mariel understand that Loretta speaks truly when she tells her that she can accomplish anything. Giff portrays an era that is probably unfamiliar to young readers. But the themes are universal. The fears of the terrible ravages of polio and the near hysteria concerning its spread are with us today in the age of AIDS. And if the characters are just a bit too altruistic and the plot just a bit convoluted and contrived, so be it. It’s really all about love, sacrifice, and courage. Readers will be swept away. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-32209-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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HOW TO STEAL A DOG

Georgina and younger brother Toby begin a homeless life living in Mom’s car, having been evicted when Dad leaves. Mom tries her best to work two minimum-wage jobs in order to make the security deposit for a new apartment while the kids struggle daily to maintain normalcy in and out of school. Desperate to help Mom gain some significant cash, Georgina concocts a grand scheme to steal a dog, dupe the owner into offering a $500 reward and then return the designated pooch for the cash. As crazy as this sounds, O’Connor weaves a suspenseful and achingly realistic story, fleshing out characters that live and breathe anxiety, fortitude and a right vs. wrong consciousness. Colorful, supporting roles of a wise, kind vagrant and a lonely, overweight dog owner round out this story of childhood helplessness, ingenuity and desolation. Georgina’s reflections in a secretly kept “how-to” journal will have kids anticipating her misconceptions about the realities of theft and deception. A powerful portrayal from an innocently youthful perspective. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-374-33497-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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