Letta is an ordinary English schoolgirl until 1989, when her life is transformed by the resurgence of ethnic identification after the fall of communism. Her family is from Varina, a fictitious Balkan nation split among Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Although her brothers have British wives and Mum devotes herself to IBM, Letta studies Varinian language and legends with her grandfather, Restaur Vax, descendant and namesake of the hero who liberated Varina from the Turks. Grandad, too, had a historic role: For two weeks in 1945, before the Russians imprisoned him for 30 years, he was Varina's last Prime Minister. Now he's to open a folk festival in Varina's former capital, with his family—and thousands of other expatriate Varinians—going along. The Romanian government is uneasy at this outburst of nationalism, and rightly so. A charismatic but unscrupulous ``blond thug,'' Otto Vasa, will manipulate the situation for his own ends. As he did in AK (1992), Dickinson explores political scenarios with sensitivity. Most intriguing are the Varinians' legends (in alternate chapters), which inform their sense of identity and parallel the contemporary action. Written with an elegant biblical cadence and furnished with wryly scholarly footnotes, these add both texture and depth. Since Letta is mostly seen safe in Britain, her perspective is less involving than Paul's in AK; and more of the ideas here are explicated in dialogue rather than action. Thought-provoking and expertly told. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-385-32110-4

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1994

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A carefully researched, precisely written tour de force; unforgettable and wrenching.


Breaking away from Arthurian legends (The Winter Prince, 1993, etc.), Wein delivers a heartbreaking tale of friendship during World War II.

In a cell in Nazi-occupied France, a young woman writes. Like Scheherezade, to whom she is compared by the SS officer in charge of her case, she dribbles out information—“everything I can remember about the British War Effort”—in exchange for time and a reprieve from torture. But her story is more than a listing of wireless codes or aircraft types. Instead, she describes her friendship with Maddie, the pilot who flew them to France, as well as the real details of the British War Effort: the breaking down of class barriers, the opportunities, the fears and victories not only of war, but of daily life. She also describes, almost casually, her unbearable current situation and the SS officer who holds her life in his hands and his beleaguered female associate, who translates the narrative each day. Through the layers of story, characters (including the Nazis) spring to life. And as the epigraph makes clear, there is more to this tale than is immediately apparent. The twists will lead readers to finish the last page and turn back to the beginning to see how the pieces slot perfectly, unexpectedly into place.

A carefully researched, precisely written tour de force; unforgettable and wrenching. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4231-5219-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin. The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyle’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice. Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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