Immersive and witty, it illuminates as a historical piece yet falters when connecting the snapshots into a cohesive picture

UNSTOPPABLE OCTOBIA MAY

With elegant prose and a spunky narrator, Flake’s latest offers detailed snapshots of African-American life in 1953.

“Death does not look like people think it should. Sometimes it wears summer suits and fine hats, silk gloves, and handmade shoes. Like him.” The “him” Octobia May refers to is Mr. Davenport, a boarder in her aunt Shuma’s rooming house that she believes is a vampire. With the help of her best friend, Jonah, Octobia May stalks the man, telling everyone of her suspicions. It is a unique perspective, depicting a character of color during the 1950s who is more enraptured of horror-movie prototypes than anything else. But Octobia May’s passion begins to feel like compulsion, then obsession. When she insists that she sees what others cannot, she becomes an unreliable narrator—and one who sounds desperate. Then later, when the book shifts from vampires and talking to the dead to Octobia May’s desire to become a detective, the plot feels crowded and loses its emotional resonance. Flake’s incorporation of the social and political milestones of the era makes the story a veritable compendium. From Masons to McCarthy to Pall Malls, Camels and Lucky Strikes, the tale offers an intriguing insight into an important time in U.S. history. However, jarring transitions and a narrator who at times feels emotionally disconnected ultimately leave readers wanting.

Immersive and witty, it illuminates as a historical piece yet falters when connecting the snapshots into a cohesive picture (. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-60960-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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