Twelve-year-old Gwen’s loving aunt has placed her in an institution. When readers first meet her, they find a thoughtful, but strange, child whose mind moves from clear reality to a somewhat mysterious take on the world around her. In the opening sequence, a bird drops a gold key into the garden under her dormitory window. When she goes outside to retrieve it, flouting the rules of the mental hospital, Gwen sets off a sequence of events that results in her eventual retreat into the world of the Earth Kitchen—a place of solitude, safety, and sanctuary from her memories and from daily life. The kitchen is furnished with the few articles from her past that comfort her, as well as some clues to what is going on in the ward. It’s the early 1960s, and Gwen has decided that her parents were killed in an atomic blast. Readers come to understand that it is this displacement of reality that has led to her institutionalization. The author artfully incorporates into the plot the terror of nuclear warfare, the less-affluent lifestyle, and comparative innocence of the pre-Vietnam era as well as that time’s attitudes toward and treatment of mental illness. Characterization is uneven; Gwen is fully realized, but the others revolve around her illness like figures floating on a mobile. Bryant uses language in an economical, lyrical way, especially in her depiction of the Earth Kitchen. This creates an exceptional sense of place, but because of Gwen’s illness, confusion can arise. Is there really a bird that drops a key? Is the Earth Kitchen really there? Despite these flaws, this is a suspenseful and thought-provoking piece of fiction and a promising debut. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-029605-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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Curtis debuts with a ten-year-old's lively account of his teenaged brother's ups and downs. Ken tries to make brother Byron out to be a real juvenile delinquent, but he comes across as more of a comic figure: getting stuck to the car when he kisses his image in a frozen side mirror, terrorized by his mother when she catches him playing with matches in the bathroom, earning a shaved head by coming home with a conk. In between, he defends Ken from a bully and buries a bird he kills by accident. Nonetheless, his parents decide that only a long stay with tough Grandma Sands will turn him around, so they all motor from Michigan to Alabama, arriving in time to witness the infamous September bombing of a Sunday school. Ken is funny and intelligent, but he gives readers a clearer sense of Byron's character than his own and seems strangely unaffected by his isolation and harassment (for his odd look—he has a lazy eye—and high reading level) at school. Curtis tries to shoehorn in more characters and subplots than the story will comfortably bear—as do many first novelists—but he creates a well-knit family and a narrator with a distinct, believable voice. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-32175-9

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1995

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Thirteen-year-old Alexis has been “banished” (her word) by her mother, who lives in San Diego, to International Falls, Minnesota, where her father is the foremost authority on the bald eagle. He heads a small team who are banding eaglets and researching the eagles’ habitat. Alexis is immediately involved and learns quickly, though it’s difficult work and complicated further by the swarms of mosquitoes and hot weather. She resents her father’s authority and the team’s respect for him. In spite of this, she becomes fascinated with the birds and rashly decides to remove a fish lure from an eagle’s nest situated on a nearby island. Though successful in climbing the tree, she lifts an eaglet out of the nest and drops it. Then she loses the paddle to the canoe and finds herself stranded on an island with an injured eaglet. For two days she struggles with a storm, a visiting bear, and hunger. She manages to feed the eaglet and herself through fashioning a crude fishing rod. She finds shelter: an abandoned house on the island obviously not used for years. Surprisingly, it is a bat refuge, full of bat dung, with hundreds of bats returning in the evening. Knowing the eaglet must have assistance, in desperation, she sets the house on fire and is rescued. Throughout these difficulties, she finally allows herself to think of her little brother, who has recently died from cancer. Working through her grief, she realizes her father’s actions, which she so resented at the time, were a result of a grief as deep as her own. The ending is a bit pat, with the eagle flown to a healing center and her parents beginning to talk to each other. The tale moves along well and will be enjoyed particularly by readers of survivalist stories. The author’s note describes her hands-on research with eagle experts and includes several Web sites where naturalists can learn more. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7868-0665-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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