UNDER THE WATSONS’ PORCH

Twelve-year-old Ellie Tremont has the blues until “bad boy” Tommy Bowers, who’s been shuffled to different families, moves in next door. Although not popular and usually dutiful, Ellie has a penchant for telling lies and wants more excitement in her boring world. She’s instantly intrigued by this boy with a past and has no intention of going to an all-girls summer camp now. Her mother quickly judges Tommy as a person to avoid, while Ellie has trouble reconciling Tommy’s shoplifting and the Saturday morning camp for the neighborhood children he creates under the elderly Watson sisters’ porch. Both begin to understand that Tommy’s camp is a way to create his own family and that he is neither a bad boy or a good boy, but just a boy—a lesson that unites mother and daughter after weeks of arguing. Sipping lemonade out of wine glasses and feeling goose bumps from Tommy’s touch, Ellie evokes the pangs of first love and the tension between eagerly leaving childhood behind and reluctantly embracing adolescence. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: July 13, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-82630-0

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2004

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The novel’s dryness is mitigated in part by its exploration of immigrant identity, xenophobia, and hate crimes.

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Seventh graders Karina Chopra and Chris Daniels live in Houston, Texas, and although they are next-door neighbors, they have different interests and their paths rarely cross.

In fact, Karina, whose family is Indian, doesn’t want to be friends with Chris, whose family is white, because the boys he hangs out with are mean to her. Things change when Karina’s immigrant paternal grandfather, Papa, moves in with Karina’s family. Papa begins tutoring Chris in math, and, as a result, Chris and Karina begin spending time with each other. Karina even comes to realize that Chris is not at all like the rest of his friends and that she should give him a second chance. One day, when Karina, Papa, and Chris are walking home from school, something terrible happens: They are assaulted by a stranger who calls Papa a Muslim terrorist, and he is badly injured. The children find themselves wanting to speak out for Papa and for other first-generation Americans like him. Narrated by Karina and Chris in alternate chapters, Bajaj’s novel gives readers varied and valuable perspectives of what it means to be first- and third-generation Indian Americans in an increasingly diverse nation. Unfortunately, however, Bajaj’s characters are quite bland, and the present-tense narrative voices of the preteen protagonists lack both distinction and authenticity.

The novel’s dryness is mitigated in part by its exploration of immigrant identity, xenophobia, and hate crimes. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51724-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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