A GROUP OF ONE

Irreverent and sassy, Tara-My-Stara (as her hip mom calls her) is determined to be a “regular Canadian,” not a hyphenated one. Gilmore (Mina’s Spring of Colors, not reviewed, etc.) has lived in India, England, and Canada, just like Rohini, Tara’s mom, and she writes realistically about this family from India who don’t emphasize their cultural background to any great degree. Tara’s Social Studies teacher and some of the kids in her class want to define her as different (in positive and negative ways), but she resists this notion, knowing that she has lived in Ottawa all her life. Her 15-year-old typical teenager’s life is upset by two other events. She meets Jeff, a young man who has just moved to town, and her paternal grandmother, a staunch Indian Nationalist, comes to visit for the first time. Naniji seems most critical of her son’s wife, Rohini, her Western ways, and her lack of traditional respect, but she is probably saddened by the fact that her son chose to live in Canada with his bride. Tara takes her mother’s side and refuses to warm up to her grandmother until a school assignment encourages Tara to interview her. When she learns more about her family’s role in Gandhi’s “Quit India” campaign in 1942, she begins to realize that her grandmother is more than just a stern old woman who can’t adjust to new ways. Tara’s first-person narrative flippantly relates the ups and downs of contemporary family life and the on-again, off-again relationships with Jeff and Erin, her longtime best friend, but her teenage voice tends to veer toward an overuse of words like “crappy.” This independent heroine wrestles with the themes of cultural identity and personal individuality, adolescent issues in Canada and the US. Development of some minor characters is weak (Raj, the father, never comes to life), but Tara, Rohini, and Naniji are strong women who fight back against the tone of didacticism that sometimes floats to the surface. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8050-6475-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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PRIVATE PEACEFUL

From England’s Children’s Laureate, a searing WWI-era tale of a close extended family repeatedly struck by adversity and injustice. On vigil in the trenches, 17-year-old Thomas Peaceful looks back at a childhood marked by guilt over his father’s death, anger at the shabby treatment his strong-minded mother receives from the local squire and others—and deep devotion to her, to his brain-damaged brother Big Joe, and especially to his other older brother Charlie, whom he has followed into the army by lying about his age. Weaving telling incidents together, Morpurgo surrounds the Peacefuls with mean-spirited people at home, and devastating wartime experiences on the front, ultimately setting readers up for a final travesty following Charlie’s refusal of an order to abandon his badly wounded brother. Themes and small-town class issues here may find some resonance on this side of the pond, but the particular cultural and historical context will distance the story from American readers—particularly as the pace is deliberate, and the author’s hints about where it’s all heading are too rare and subtle to create much suspense. (Fiction. 11-13, adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-439-63648-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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FEVER 1793

In an intense, well-researched tale that will resonate particularly with readers in parts of the country where the West Nile virus and other insect-borne diseases are active, Anderson (Speak, 1999, etc.) takes a Philadelphia teenager through one of the most devastating outbreaks of yellow fever in our country’s history. It’s 1793, and though business has never been better at the coffeehouse run by Matilda’s widowed, strong-minded mother in what is then the national capital, vague rumors of disease come home to roost when the serving girl dies without warning one August night. Soon church bells are ringing ceaselessly for the dead as panicked residents, amid unrelenting heat and clouds of insects, huddle in their houses, stream out of town, or desperately submit to the conflicting dictates of doctors. Matilda and her mother both collapse, and in the ensuing confusion, they lose track of each other. Witnessing people behaving well and badly, Matilda first recovers slowly in a makeshift hospital, then joins the coffeehouse’s cook, Emma, a free African-American, in tending to the poor and nursing three small, stricken children. When at long last the October frosts signal the epidemic’s end, Emma and Matilda reopen the coffeehouse as partners, and Matilda’s mother turns up—alive, but a trembling shadow of her former self. Like Paul Fleischman’s Path of the Pale Horse (1983), which has the same setting, or Anna Myers’s Graveyard Girl (1995), about a similar epidemic nearly a century later, readers will find this a gripping picture of disease’s devastating effect on people, and on the social fabric itself. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-83858-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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