PALACE BEAUTIFUL

When Sadie and Zuzu’s family moves from Texas to their grandmother’s house in Salt Lake City, they explore an attic cubby (marked “Palace Beautiful”) and discover a diary written by a young girl who lived in the house during the flu epidemic of 1918. The diary becomes a magnet for the sisters and their new friend from next door, Bella (for Belladonna), who wears black and is mistreated by her mother. As the three girls read the diary aloud by candlelight, the hardships described in the journal become a parallel story about a baby brother dying, Sadie’s pregnant stepmother and family relationships. The modern plot line is dragged down by two devices: Sadie’s conviction that each person came into the world in a different, fanciful way and her tiresome penchant for characterizing colors that label the chapters—Wide-Awake Red, Bubbly-Churning Green. The only textual marker rising from the mid-’80s time frame is the stepmother’s cosmetic parties, where she tells everyone they look like Jackie O., a reference that will likely mystify modern readers. The journal entries, which are the heart of the story, override the distractions. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-399-25298-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2010

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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The bird’s-eye view into this pivotal moment provides a powerful story, one that adults will applaud—but between the...

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON

The ugly brutality of the Jim Crow South is recounted in dulcet, poetic tones, creating a harsh and fascinating blend.

Fact and fiction pair in the story of Rose Lee Carter, 13, as she copes with life in a racially divided world. It splits wide open when a 14-year-old boy from Chicago named Emmett Till goes missing. Jackson superbly blends the history into her narrative. The suffocating heat, oppression, and despair African-Americans experienced in 1955 Mississippi resonate. And the author effectively creates a protagonist with plenty of suffering all her own. Practically abandoned by her mother, Rose Lee is reviled in her own home for the darkness of her brown skin. The author ably captures the fear and dread of each day and excels when she shows the peril of blacks trying to assert their right to vote in the South, likely a foreign concept to today’s kids. Where the book fails, however, is in its overuse of descriptors and dialect and the near-sociopathic zeal of Rose Lee's grandmother Ma Pearl and her lighter-skinned cousin Queen. Ma Pearl is an emotionally remote tyrant who seems to derive glee from crushing Rose Lee's spirits. And Queen is so glib and self-centered she's almost a cartoon.

The bird’s-eye view into this pivotal moment provides a powerful story, one that adults will applaud—but between the avalanche of old-South homilies and Rose Lee’s relentlessly hopeless struggle, it may be a hard sell for younger readers. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-78510-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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