A fascinating subject sadly mishandled.

Mexican American 17-year-old Tomás is used to his father’s nightmares about World War II, but that doesn’t mean he understands them.

Papi rarely talks about it, and Tomás suspects the number tattooed on his arm is not just his “lucky number”—it’s just like those of concentration-camp survivors in the slides Mrs. Franklin shows at school. Tomás’ secret search for the truth takes him through his father’s war mementos, which leads him to a buried box in the family’s garden. Later, Tomás and his mother connive to mind-trick Papi into admitting that he was a POW in a Nazi concentration camp and agreeing to speak to Tomás’ class about his experiences. Still, it’s a long while before he reveals the real reason for the tattoo. Alvarado bases his story on the experiences of the first Mexican American to register as a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, but the text fails as a novel. Tomás’ voice sounds like a reflective adult’s rather than a teen’s; the plot is contrived; and the psychological trickery is unsettling to witness. California, the earliest adopter of Holocaust education and the setting of this novel, didn’t start putting it into schools until 20 years after the story takes place, and, troublingly, the tone taken by both teacher and narrator is removed, describing Jews and the Shoah as if they were subjects of a nature documentary. An afterword that separates fact from fiction reveals that significant liberties were taken. Baeza Ventura’s Spanish translation is bound back to back with the English text.

A fascinating subject sadly mishandled. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-55885-901-2

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Piñata Books/Arte Público

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020


From the Plot to Kill Hitler series , Vol. 1

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Near the end of World War II, two kids join their parents in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

Max, 12, lives with his parents and his older sister in a Berlin that’s under constant air bombardment. During one such raid, a mortally wounded man stumbles into the white German family’s home and gasps out his last wish: “The Führer must die.” With this nighttime visitation, Max and Gerta discover their parents have been part of a resistance cell, and the siblings want in. They meet a colorful band of upper-class types who seem almost too whimsical to be serious. Despite her charming levity, Prussian aristocrat and cell leader Frau Becker is grimly aware of the stakes. She enlists Max and Gerta as couriers who sneak forged identification papers to Jews in hiding. Max and Gerta are merely (and realistically) cogs in the adults’ plans, but there’s plenty of room for their own heroism. They escape capture, rescue each other when they’re caught out during an air raid, and willingly put themselves repeatedly at risk to catch a spy. The fictional plotters—based on a mix of several real anti-Hitler resistance cells—are portrayed with a genuine humor, giving them the space to feel alive even in such a slim volume.

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-35902-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020


The Baudelaire children—Violet, 14, Klaus, 12, and baby Sunny—are exceedingly ill-fated; Snicket extracts both humor and horror from their situation, as he gleefully puts them through one terrible ordeal after another. After receiving the news that their parents died in a fire, the three hapless orphans are delivered into the care of Count Olaf, who “is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed.” The villainous Count Olaf is morally depraved and generally mean, and only takes in the downtrodden yet valiant children so that he can figure out a way to separate them from their considerable inheritance. The youngsters are able to escape his clutches at the end, but since this is the first installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there will be more ghastly doings. Written with old-fashioned flair, this fast-paced book is not for the squeamish: the Baudelaire children are truly sympathetic characters who encounter a multitude of distressing situations. Those who enjoy a little poison in their porridge will find it wicked good fun. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-440766-7

Page Count: 162

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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