HOW I SURVIVED MY SUMMER VACATION

AND LIVED TO WRITE THE STORY

In many ways Jackie Monterey, 13, is a typical teenager. His parents are a great embarrassment to him; he’s having a boring and frustrating summer; and his best friends don’t really understand him. One thing does differentiate Jackie from his peers, though—Jackie plans to write the Great American Novel over the summer between 8th and 9th grades. After all, Jackie did invest in a book called “Get Rich Quick! Write a Bestseller in Less Than a Year.” The only trouble is that Jackie can’t get past his first sentence. He also can’t decide on the genre of his groundbreaking novel—will he get rich quick by writing a hard-boiled detective story, sci-fi, a gritty western, or an “Indiana Jones”-style adventure story? During his long bouts of writer’s block, Jackie engages in normal adolescent activities—he swims on a team at the local swim club, hangs out with his pals, and gets dumped by a beautiful but unfeeling girl with whom he has absolutely nothing in common. Jackie isn’t an untalented writer, but he lacks direction and focus and is too stubborn to take any advice or help from anyone. To make things even worse, he has a problem sticking with things. Jackie blames everyone around him for his lack of progress—his parents constantly interrupt him and don’t take his “work” seriously and his friends distract him with juvenile antics. But as the summer progresses Jackie realizes that sometimes you do need to listen to other, perhaps even wiser, people. While this novel’s premise is promising, the elements don’t quite gel—Jackie’s friends, while meant to be funny and quirky, are too often merely annoying and Jackie just misses being charming. Despite the fact that many of the jokes and comic situations are belabored and forced, there are several funny scenes and Jackie does turn out to be an endearing character. Not a “must have” book, but one with a certain amount of appeal for its age group. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8126-2738-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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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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THE RIVER

A sequel to the most popular of Paulsen's three Newbery Honor books (Hatchet, 1987), based on an unlikely premise— government researchers want Brian to reenact his northwoods survival so that his strategies can be observed and taught to others. Derek, a young psychologist, and Brian are dropped off at another Canadian lake, near the first one, equipped only with knives and a radio that Derek has promised not to use except in a dire emergency. Everything goes all too smoothly until their camp is struck by lightning, zapping the radio and leaving Derek in a coma. Brian manages to float Derek 100 miles down a river to a trading post, thus saving his life. The lyrically described details of Brian's adventure— building a fire, making a raft—are of most interest here; for all its graphically evoked perils (rapids, the craft's unwieldiness, exhaustion), the journey's successful outcome seems less in doubt than did the outcome of the compelling autobiographical wilderness experiences described in Woodsong (1990). In Hatchet, Brian discovered his own strength, adding depth, complexity, and tension to the story; here, that strength is a given—as he himself points out. Perfunctory in design but vividly written, a book that will, as intended, please the readers who hoped that Paulsen, like Brian, would "do it again." (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: June 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-385-30388-2

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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