NORY RYAN’S SONG

Newbery Medal–winner Giff (Lily's Crossing, 1997, etc.) weaves wisps of history into this wrenching tale of an Irish family sundered by the Great Potato Famine. 

The three Ryan sisters, their mother dead and their "da" away at sea, are struggling to make ends meet and care for old Granda and three-year-old Patrick, as their predatory English landlord waits for his rent on one side and America's golden promise glitters over the horizon on the other. Heralded by an ominous odor, blight sweeps through the potato fields, wiping out the crops overnight. Through young Nory's eyes, the aptly named Great Hunger is devastatingly real: not only do livestock and grain disappear, but so do shellfish and kelp, and finally even nettles and other weeds. Families are mercilessly driven from their homes, the dead are buried without ceremony, and little Patrick becomes ever thinner and more pitiable. Grasping at a sudden chance, big sister Maggie takes off for America, then Granda and teenage Celia set out for Galway, hoping to meet Da on the docks—leaving Nory to care for Patrick, and for old Anna Donnelly, a neighbor with a tragic past, as well. Nory makes the hardest sacrifice of all when an emigrating family invites her along and she sends Patrick in her place. So grim is the picture Giff draws that readers are likely to be startled by the sudden turnaround at the end, when news of Da's reappearance brings ship's passage for all and the prospect of a happy reunion in New York. Still, Nory's patient, stubborn endurance lights up this tale, and the promise of better times to come is well deserved.

Riveting. (Historical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-32141-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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This weave of perceptive, well-told tales wears its agenda with unusual grace.

WAR STORIES

Two young people of different generations get profound lessons in the tragic, enduring legacy of war.

Raised on the thrilling yarns of his great-grandpa Jacob and obsessed with both World War II and first-person–shooter video games, Trevor is eager to join the 93-year-old vet when he is invited to revisit the French town his unit had helped to liberate. In alternating chapters, the overseas trip retraces the parallel journeys of two young people—Trevor, 12, and Jacob, in 1944, just five years older—with similarly idealized visions of what war is like as they travel both then and now from Fort Benning to Omaha Beach and then through Normandy. Jacob’s wartime experiences are an absorbing whirl of hard fighting, sudden death, and courageous acts spurred by necessity…but the modern trip turns suspenseful too, as mysterious stalkers leave unsettling tokens and a series of hostile online posts that hint that Jacob doesn’t have just German blood on his hands. Korman acknowledges the widely held view of World War II as a just war but makes his own sympathies plain by repeatedly pointing to the unavoidable price of conflict: “Wars may have winning sides, but everybody loses.” Readers anticipating a heavy-handed moral will appreciate that Trevor arrives at a refreshingly realistic appreciation of video games’ pleasures and limitations. As his dad puts it: “War makes a better video game….But if you’re looking for a way to live, I’ll take peace every time.”

This weave of perceptive, well-told tales wears its agenda with unusual grace. (Fiction/historical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-29020-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Rich and strange of place and premise; suspenseful and thought-provoking.

THE LEFT-HANDED FATE

An ancient inscription and a handful of inscrutable artifacts plunge three young people into both the War of 1812 and a much larger, older conflict.

Opening in Baltimore then moving on to the not-entirely-earthly town of Nagspeake (setting, in another era, of Milford’s Greenglass House, 2014), the tale centers on staid, methodical “natural philosopher” Max Ault; 12-year-old American naval officer Oliver Dexter; and fiery Lucy Bluecrowne, daughter of a renowned British privateer, captain of the titular ship. It pits them against both relentless French pursuers and mysterious men in black with eldritch abilities. The prize is a three-part device made thousands of years ago and said to be able to stop war…a superweapon, or so everyone (nearly everyone) presumes. Along with being replete with rousing chases, races, and violent explosions, the tale is uncommonly rich in memorable characters, from the central three, who all display stout hearts and hidden depths, to Lucy’s 9-year-old half brother, part-Chinese Liao: pacifist, expert lockpick, and fireworks genius extraordinaire. The labyrinthine Nagspeake itself is magical and vivid enough to serve as more than just a setting (and deservedly sports a metafictional website). Wheeler’s neatly turned monochromes capture the tale’s warmth and wonder, though (at least as she depicts it) the cast appears to be white, excepting Liao.

Rich and strange of place and premise; suspenseful and thought-provoking. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9800-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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