The novel is absorbing and enjoyable, but readers’ feelings about this oddball mystery/life-transformation hybrid will...

THE UNDERDOGS

Best friends try to figure out who murdered a pretty 16-year-old girl at a tennis club.

Evie, 12, and her best friend, narrator Chelsea, spend their summer hanging out together at the Boston-area tennis club where Evie’s father works as a tennis pro and Chelsea’s mother manages the desk. Both are wounded souls with distressing back stories. Evie, who’s fat and bullied, is living with her indifferent dad because her mother deserted her; Chelsea was horrifically abused before being adopted. Because both protagonists are club fixtures and largely invisible to the campers and elite tennis players, they manage to secretly shadow the detective responsible for solving the murder and the various suspects as well. A strong subplot concerns Evie’s transformation from a fat, angry outcast to a thinner tennis whiz. About halfway through the novel, readers should begin to notice various discrepancies—things that don’t quite scan or make complete sense. This feeling continues to increase until the end, when a doozy of a revelation changes the way readers perceive everything that came before. The twist is not 100-percent fair, and there will be a few pages of puzzlement before readers get the aha, but it certainly clears up the incongruities. Chelsea describes the people around her, mostly white, but she avoids touching on her own appearance, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

The novel is absorbing and enjoyable, but readers’ feelings about this oddball mystery/life-transformation hybrid will depend on whether they’re delighted or annoyed by the surprise ending. (Mystery. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-30161-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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BAMBOO PEOPLE

Well-educated American boys from privileged families have abundant options for college and career. For Chiko, their Burmese counterpart, there are no good choices. There is never enough to eat, and his family lives in constant fear of the military regime that has imprisoned Chiko’s physician father. Soon Chiko is commandeered by the army, trained to hunt down members of the Karenni ethnic minority. Tai, another “recruit,” uses his streetwise survival skills to help them both survive. Meanwhile, Tu Reh, a Karenni youth whose village was torched by the Burmese Army, has been chosen for his first military mission in his people’s resistance movement. How the boys meet and what comes of it is the crux of this multi-voiced novel. While Perkins doesn’t sugarcoat her subject—coming of age in a brutal, fascistic society—this is a gentle story with a lot of heart, suitable for younger readers than the subject matter might suggest. It answers the question, “What is it like to be a child soldier?” clearly, but with hope. (author’s note, historical note) (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-58089-328-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

MAPPING THE BONES

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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