THE BAPTISM

This colloquial first-person novel is set in rural North Carolina in some unspecified time before the modern civil-rights era. In a vigorous, rambling voice, 12-year-old Leon, a mischievous, African-American boy, relates the dramatic events that take place the week before he and his more compliant twin brother are baptized. These vivid happenings include Leon’s separation from Luke during a tornado and the theft of his mother’s savings by his ne’er-do-well stepfather, Filthy Frank. Given the hefty length of some chapters, and stream-of-consciousness approach, the arrangement by the days of the week seems artificial. And the narrative is weighed down by a confusing explanation of characters and events from previous stories (the acclaimed books about Buddy Bush). Moses is forthright about the unsavory legacy of slavery: Leon’s wealthy white grandfather owned his black grandmother, and the white man who murdered Leon’s beloved father was never charged. This intimate portrait of family and community eventually hits its stride as Moses makes a distinctive contribution in her portrait of a southern black church from the inside out. Includes an enlightening author’s note and acknowledgements. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2007

ISBN: 1-4169-0671-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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BYSTANDER

Bullying is a topic that never lacks for interest, and here Preller concentrates on the kids who try to ignore or accommodate a bully to keep themselves safe. Victim David’s pain is evident from the first moment newcomer Eric sees him, but he tries not to acknowledge the reality before him. His mother is trying for a fresh start in this Long Island community, as his father has succumbed to schizophrenia and left her and their two boys on their own. Griffin, the bullying instigator, has charisma of sorts; he is a leader and yet suffers under his father’s bullying and aggression. For Eric to do the right thing is neither easy nor what he first wants to do, and the way he finds support among his classmates is shown in logical and believable small steps. Eminently discussable as a middle-school read-aloud, the narrative offers minimal subplots to detract from the theme. The role of girls is downplayed, except for classmate Mary, who is essential to the resolution, enhancing appeal across gender lines. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-37906-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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THE TIGER RISING

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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