A tale that sincerely and effectively advocates human connection and empathy in dealing with trauma.



A teenage abuse victim finds healing and purpose in this debut YA novel.

Sam, age 15, is running away from Him, the father she won’t name—the parent who subjected her to years of emotional and physical abuse. The only adult love she’s ever known came from two teachers in junior high. Aside from them, her few happy memories are of Nova, her younger sister, and Dodger, a boy she met in residential care. Sam hasn’t seen Nova for years—not since their mother left and took one sister but not the other. Sam and Dodger have planned to meet at Lake Isabel on the first day of spring, but first she has to break free from the specter of Him. It is while she is fleeing through the forest that she comes upon a magical house built high up in and around the trees. Here she meets Theory, a kindly old woman who takes her in and helps Sam exorcise her demons. For the first time in her life, Sam feels safe. But spring is approaching and, with it, Dodger and two other young runaways. Can Sam take her newfound peace with her when she ventures back into the world? Mendivel portrays Sam as funny, intelligent, imaginative, and intensely vulnerable, her long conversations with Theory revealing a depth of understanding but also surging feelings of anger and doubt. It is an honest depiction, and the author neither shies away from the abuse Sam suffered nor describes it too graphically. The focus instead is on Sam’s state of mind, the turmoil of which is cleverly contrasted with the peace and order she comes to find in the forest. Sam is damaged—this is in no way presented as a judgment—and the first half of the narrative tips more toward therapy than story. With Dodger’s arrival, however, the balance is restored and Sam’s tale not only takes shape, but also shows itself to hold a bearing beyond her need to overcome her past. Sufferers young and old should take heart, but most readers would surely benefit from some exposure to Theory’s wisdom and Sam’s inner strength and insights.

A tale that sincerely and effectively advocates human connection and empathy in dealing with trauma.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-977568-50-2

Page Count: 386

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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The poster boy for relentless mischief-makers everywhere, first encountered in No, David! (1998), gives his weary mother a rest by going to school. Naturally, he’s tardy, and that’s but the first in a long string of offenses—“Sit down, David! Keep your hands to yourself! PAY ATTENTION!”—that culminates in an afterschool stint. Children will, of course, recognize every line of the text and every one of David’s moves, and although he doesn’t exhibit the larger- than-life quality that made him a tall-tale anti-hero in his first appearance, his round-headed, gap-toothed enthusiasm is still endearing. For all his disruptive behavior, he shows not a trace of malice, and it’ll be easy for readers to want to encourage his further exploits. (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-590-48087-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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