THE KINGDOM BY THE SEA

Harry Baguely has just made it to the bomb shelter when a Luftwaffe bomb obliterates his home, parents, and little sister. Horrified by their fate and by the prospect of going to live in a cousin's overcrowded flat, Harry takes the blankets he was carrying at the time of the blast and a briefcase containing family documents and sets off up the coast north of his home near Newcastle-upon-Tyne, accompanied by Don, a stray dog. Like the dauntless puss in Blitzcat (1989), Harry encounters a variety of people who reveal their characters by their manner of enduring the war. A wrathful farmer violently evicts him from a haystack; an alcoholic recluse teaches him survival lore of the beach; a fatherly corporal befriends him until the return of a vicious homosexual associate, whose advances force Harry to move on. After a terrifying night crossing from Lindisfarne to the mainland, when he and Don are caught by the tide, Harry is taken in by a gentle schoolmaster who is grieving for his own son. Their mutual solace is not quite the end of Harry's journey—with a startling final twist, Westall sets his entire story in new light. Meanwhile, Harry is revealed, to himself and the reader, as a 12-year-old with intelligence, competence, and conscience, a boy with the resilience to cope with the blow he receives at the end. A fine survival story, winner of the 1990 Guardian Award. (Fiction. 11+)

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-34205-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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THE CLAY MARBLE

Drawing on her experience with a relief organization on the Thai border, Ho tells the story of a Cambodian family, fleeing the rival factions of the 80's while hoping to gather resources to return to farming in their homeland. Narrator Dara, 12, and the remnants of her family have arrived at a refugee camp soon after her father's summary execution. At first, the camp is a haven: food is plentiful, seed rice is available, and they form a bond with another family- -brother Sarun falls in love with Nea, and Dara makes friends with Nea's cousin, Jantu, who contrives marvelous toys from mud and bits of scrap; made wise by adversity, Jantu understands that the process of creation outweighs the value of things, and that dead loved ones may live on in memory. The respite is brief: Vietnamese bombing disrupts the camp, and the family is temporarily but terrifyingly separated. Later, Jantu is wounded by friendly fire and doesn't survive; but her tragic death empowers Dara to confront Sarun, who's caught up in mindless militarism instigated by a charismatic leader, and persuade him to travel home with the others—to plant rice and build a family instead of waging war. Again, Ho (Rice Without Rain, 1990) skillfully shapes her story to dramatize political and humanitarian issues. The easily swayed Sarun lacks dimension, but the girls are more subtly drawn—Dara's growing courage and assertiveness are especially convincing and admirable. Touching, authentic, carefully wrought- -and with an unusually appealing jacket. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-31340-7

Page Count: 163

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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