WHIRLIGIG

At once serious and playful, this tale of a teenager’s penitential journey to four corners of the country can be read on several levels. While attempting to kill himself on the highway after a humiliating social failure, Brent causes a fatal accident for another motorist, Lea Zamora. His sentence requires a personal act of atonement, if the victim’s family so desires; Lea’s mother hands him a bus pass and tells him to place pictorial whirligigs in Maine, Florida, Washington, and California as monuments to her daughter’s ability to make people smile. Brent sets out willingly, armed with plywood, new tools, and an old construction manual. Characteristically of Fleischman (Seedfolks, 1997, etc.), the narrative structure is unconventional: Among the chapters in which Brent constructs and places the contraptions are independent short stories that feature the whirligigs, playing significant roles in the lives of others. Brent encounters a variety of travelers and new thoughts on the road, and by the end has lost much of the sense of isolation that made his earlier aspirations to be one of the in-crowd so important. The economy of language and sustained intensity of feeling are as strongly reminiscent of Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May (1992) as are the wind toys and, at least in part, the theme, but Fleischman’s cast and mood are more varied, sometimes even comic, and it’s Brent’s long physical journey, paralleled by his inner one, that teaches him to look at the world and himself with new eyes. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-5582-7

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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THE SUMMER I TURNED PRETTY

Han’s leisurely paced, somewhat somber narrative revisits several beach-house summers in flashback through the eyes of now 15-year-old Isabel, known to all as Belly. Belly measures her growing self by these summers and by her lifelong relationship with the older boys, her brother and her mother’s best friend’s two sons. Belly’s dawning awareness of her sexuality and that of the boys is a strong theme, as is the sense of summer as a separate and reflective time and place: Readers get glimpses of kisses on the beach, her best friend’s flirtations during one summer’s visit, a first date. In the background the two mothers renew their friendship each year, and Lauren, Belly’s mother, provides support for her friend—if not, unfortunately, for the children—in Susannah’s losing battle with breast cancer. Besides the mostly off-stage issue of a parent’s severe illness there’s not much here to challenge most readers—driving, beer-drinking, divorce, a moment of surprise at the mothers smoking medicinal pot together. The wish-fulfilling title and sun-washed, catalog-beautiful teens on the cover will be enticing for girls looking for a diversion. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4169-6823-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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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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