DO-OVER

The author of Wonder (1991) presents another perceptive story about kids in the same junior high. Here, she focuses on eighth-grader Whitman Levy, just beginning to be preoccupied by his potential with girls when his parents decide to split up. First glimpsed in a comical opening scene in a closet with popular Sheila during a party game, he's unsure ``how you get started''; he's also good friends with nice, bright Andi, who is black, but ends up with irrepressible Gwen, his wife in the school production of Bye, Bye Birdie. Meanwhile, best friend Doug slights Andi in another kissing game but, though Doug's racism deeply distresses Whit, he never quite realizes that nice Mackey is actually becoming a better friend. More distressing, Dad starts an affair with Liz, attractive young director of the play. Still, Whit is ready to meet Dad halfway when he tries to make peace, as he did with Doug; and in the midst of performing his big scene on stage, he has an epiphany: he may not be able to turn the world back like Superman, but he's still empowered: ``I could screw up or I could be amazing, and there's no turning back, no do-overs. It felt like flying.'' As she did so skillfully in Wonder, Vail enriches an accessible story with sharply observed characters, especially a likable protagonist who confronts the complicated task of growing up with humor, intelligence, and good will. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-531-05460-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Orchard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1992

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THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

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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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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