RIVER BOY

Jess's grandfather, a noted painter, has suffered a heart attack. Grandpa insists his family carry on with plans to take him to his remote childhood home, obsessed as he is with finishing a painting titled "River Boy" in which there seems to be no "boy." Arriving at their vacation rental on the river, Jess begins to feel the presence of, and soon sees, a mysterious boy she calls the River Boy. Says the enigmatic young man, "If your grandpa died fulfilled, would you bear his loss better?" He then advises Jess to help finish the painting by being Grandpa's hands. The River Boy himself needs Jess's help. He wants to swim the river from source to sea and, fearful of swimming alone, wants Jess to swim with him. As the River Boy materializes from mere presence to actual boy, Grandfather fades. Then, the painting finished, he dies. The journey to the sea completed, the River Boy also vanishes at the moment of Grandpa's death. While the writing is quietly poetic, the theme universal, and the metaphor of the river that flows from source to sea apt (if not entirely fresh), the story does not compel. Thoughtful readers will easily predict that the elusive boy is Grandpa and that the death will be timed to coincide with the boy reaching the sea. Readers who do not, though, may tire of the repetitious family dithering over an old man who is tyrannical, emotionally remote, and self-absorbed. Sadly, his decline makes for reading more painful than engrossing. (1998 Carnegie Medal) (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-689-82908-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2000

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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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GETTING NEAR TO BABY

Couloumbis’s debut carries a family through early stages of grief with grace, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of laughter. In the wake of Baby’s sudden death, the three Deans remaining put up no resistance when Aunt Patty swoops in to take away 12-year-old Willa Jo and suddenly, stubbornly mute JoAnn, called “Little Sister,” in the misguided belief that their mother needs time alone. Well-meaning but far too accustomed to getting her way, Aunt Patty buys the children unwanted new clothes, enrolls them in a Bible day camp for one disastrous day, and even tries to line up friends for them. While politely tolerating her hovering, the two inseparable sisters find their own path, hooking up with a fearless, wonderfully plainspoken teenaged neighbor and her dirt-loving brothers, then, acting on an obscure but ultimately healing impulse, climbing out onto the roof to get a bit closer to Heaven, and Baby. Willa Jo tells the tale in a nonlinear, back-and-forth fashion that not only prepares readers emotionally for her heartrending account of Baby’s death, but also artfully illuminates each character’s depths and foibles; the loving relationship between Patty and her wiser husband Hob is just as complex and clearly drawn as that of Willa Jo and Little Sister. Lightening the tone by poking gentle fun at Patty and some of her small-town neighbors, the author creates a cast founded on likable, real-seeming people who grow and change in response to tragedy. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23389-X

Page Count: 211

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

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