NINER

Twelve-year-old Macey (aka “Niner,” due to the fact that she lost a thumb as an infant) obsesses over her lack of resemblance to her adoptive family and believes that her “bad genes” caused her mother to leave home a year ago. When she finds a broken locket on the lawn, she believes it’s a sign from her missing mother and refuses to relinquish it to a threatening drug dealer. What follows is a complicated story of mistaken identity in which the dealer, who never wanted the locket, stalks Macey because he erroneously believes she stole money he hid on her property. In trying to evade him, Macey encounters a number of emotional and physical obstacles until a frightening final confrontation gives her the strength to let go of the fiction that her mother will return. The working-class Philadelphia setting comes to life, and the turmoil of children struggling to understand adult issues rings true. But an overstuffed plot, including the plight of a local runaway, detracts from Macey’s compelling internal emotional journey. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59078-549-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Front Street/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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This is a minor quibble with a story that imagines so clearly for American readers the travails of all-too-many Latin...

BEFORE WE WERE FREE

A 12-year-old girl bears witness to the Dominican Revolution of 1961 in a powerful first-person narrative.

The story opens as Anita’s cousins (the Garcia girls of Alvarez’s 1991 adult debut, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), hurriedly pack to leave the country. This signals the end of childhood innocence for Anita. In short succession, her family finds the secret police parked in their driveway; the American consul moves in next door; and her older sister Lucinda is packed off to join her cousins in New York after she attracts the unwelcome attention of El Jefe Trujillo, the country’s dictator. Anita’s family, it seems, is intimately involved with the political resistance to Trujillo, and she, perforce, is drawn into the emotional maelstrom. The present-tense narrative lends the story a gripping immediacy, as Anita moves from the healthy, self-absorbed naïveté of early adolescence to a prematurely aged understanding of the world’s brutality. Her entree into puberty goes hand in hand with her entree into this adult world of terror: “I don’t want to be a señorita now that I know what El Jefe does to señoritas.” According to an author’s note, Alvarez (How Tía Lola Came to Visit Stay, 2001, etc.) drew upon the experiences of family members who stayed behind in the Dominican Republic during this period of political upheaval, crafting a story that, in its matter-of-fact detailing of the increasingly surreal world surrounding Anita, feels almost realer than life. The power of the narrative is weakened somewhat by the insertion of Anita’s diary entries as she and her mother take shelter in the Italian Embassy after her father’s arrest. The first-person, present-tense construction of the diary entries are not different enough from the main narrative to make them come alive as such; instead, the artifice draws attention to itself, creating a distraction.

This is a minor quibble with a story that imagines so clearly for American readers the travails of all-too-many Latin nations then and now. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-81544-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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FABLEHAVEN

Witty repartee between the central characters, as well as the occasional well-done set piece, isn’t enough to hold this hefty debut together. Teenagers Seth and Kendra are dropped off by traveling parents at their grandfather’s isolated Connecticut estate, and soon discover why he’s so reluctant to have them—the place is a secret haven for magical creatures, both benign and decidedly otherwise. Those others are held in check by a complicated, unwritten and conveniently malleable Compact that is broken on Midsummer Eve, leaving everyone except Kendra captive in a hidden underground chamber with a newly released demon. Mull’s repeated use of the same device to prod the plot along comes off as more labored than comic: Over and over an adult issues a stern but vague warning; Seth ignores it; does some mischief and is sorry afterward. Sometimes Kendra joins in trying to head off her uncommonly dense brother. She comes into her own at the rousing climax, but that takes a long time to arrive; stick with Michael Buckley’s “Sisters Grimm” tales, which carry a similar premise in more amazing and amusing directions. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59038-581-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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