WHEEL OF THE MOON

An orphan loses one home and travels far before finding another in this bustling tale, set in 17th-century England and America. Her father dead for years and her mother suddenly drowned in a spring flood, Pen joins a group of orphans hiding out in the cellar of an abandoned London house. Barely has she become attached to the children before a gang of anything-but-ethereal “spirits” seizes them, throws them into Bridewell prison, then months later bundles them aboard a ship bound for Jamestown as indentured laborers. Though filthy conditions, bad food, and general mistreatment have taken a grim toll by the time they arrive, Forrester lightens the atmosphere by having Jamestown turn out to be far less hellish than the children had been led to expect. In fact, Pen finds herself working for such a kindly couple that, when a chance comes to escape a year later, she opts to stay. Forrester (Dust From Old Bones, 1999, etc.) gives Pen’s experiences a historical basis by noting that in 1627 alone more than 1,400 English children were shipped off to Virginia. Readers will appreciate Pen’s resilience in the face of one terrible loss after another, and will applaud her steady courage. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2000

ISBN: 0-688-17149-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2000

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NELL OF BRANFORD HALL

Loosely connected to historical events, this tale of a 17th-century English town that isolated itself to prevent the plague from spreading celebrates selfless courage, but it does so at some distance, and within the confines of a contrived, ordinary story. Daughter of a prosperous, bookish squire, Nell Bullen has enjoyed an idyllic upbringing, and despite confirmed rumors of plague, eagerly accompanies her father to London when he is inducted into the Royal Academy. Guided by the up-and-coming Samuel Pepys, Nell tours the city, avoiding the plague-ridden districts until by mischance she witnesses a horrifying mass burial. Sobered, she returns to Branford, not long before the local tailor takes ill. Viewed largely from the distant safety of the manor house, the townfolks’ principled decision to stay put rather than flee, and their subsequent suffering, will seem a remote catastrophe to readers, and Nell’s stilted narrative style (“Among our visitors from London was a singular young man whom I misjudged completely at the start,”) gives this the artificiality of a formula romance. Though the act from which this story springs merits commemoration, the inner and outer devastation wrought by disease is more vividly captured in Cynthia DeFelice’s Apprenticeship of Lucas Whittaker (1996) and Anna Myers’s Graveyard Girl (1995). (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-8037-2393-8

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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THE PLAYMAKER

In a mystery set in Elizabethan London, 14-year-old Richard Malory joins Shakespeare’s theater company and discovers a Catholic plot against the queen. When his mother dies, Richard travels to London to search for his long-absent father. As he struggles to survive he falls into acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Players and learns that he has real talent. He also learns that his father has been involved in a dangerous conspiracy that leads to the torture and beheading of those whom the Queen’s agents can catch. The double plotlines of the conspiracy and of Richard’s development as an actor illuminate two interesting aspects of Elizabethan history. The political intrigue points to the passions then prevalent against Catholics, and the lively view from inside Shakespeare’s theater demonstrates the excitement and tensions experienced by the actors. Cheaney manages dialogue that rings true to the times, as does his richly flavored writing style. Altogether, the suspense and historical details add up to a spirited introduction to one of the most fascinating periods in history. The book includes a “prologue” and a historical note that discuss the basic history of the period, with a map of Elizabethan London. It might be read as a companion to Gary Blackwood’s The Shakespeare Stealer (1998). (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-80577-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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