WINTERING

The young hero of Durbin’s The Broken Blade (1997) returns in this engaging sequel. Now 14, Pierre La Page is a seasoned voyageur, accustomed to rising at four in the morning and spending the day paddling for the North West Company. While Durbin’s previous novel functioned as a coming-of-age tale, this outing tell of Pierre’s adventures the following year, when he learns that the pretty young Kennewah girl he befriended has died, along with her family, of smallpox. Although Pierre grieves for his friend, he is surrounded by the big-hearted La Petite, the scholarly Commander McHenry, and the braggart-bully Jean Beloåt. When the crew builds a new trading post at Windigo Point, Pierre befriends a young Ojibwe named Red Loon, and learns English from the commander. Durbin packs his narrative with plenty of facts about how the Native Americans lived, as well as the voyageurs’ preparations to survive the winter. Despite their best efforts, the crew is desperate for food, until Pierre and Red Loon shoot and kill a giant bull moose. In the novel’s most surprising twist, Beloåt, who is killed by a gunshot wound, leaves his money to Pierre, so that he can continue his education. Although this story lacks the impact of the first one, it’s well-written and atmospheric; with so many plot threads remaining, readers are almost assured of more adventures. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-385-32598-3

Page Count: 191

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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The poem/novel ends with only a trace of hope; there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality.

OUT OF THE DUST

Billie Jo tells of her life in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl: Her mother dies after a gruesome accident caused by her father's leaving a bucket of kerosene near the stove; Billie Jo is partially responsible—fully responsible in the eyes of the community—and sustains injuries that seem to bring to a halt her dreams of playing the piano.

Finding a way through her grief is not made easier by her taciturn father, who went on a drinking binge while Billie Joe's mother, not yet dead, begged for water. Told in free-verse poetry of dated entries that span the winter of 1934 to the winter of 1935, this is an unremittingly bleak portrait of one corner of Depression-era life. In Billie Jo, the only character who comes to life, Hesse (The Music of Dolphins, 1996, etc.) presents a hale and determined heroine who confronts unrelenting misery and begins to transcend it.

The poem/novel ends with only a trace of hope; there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 978-0-590-36080-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM--1963

Curtis debuts with a ten-year-old's lively account of his teenaged brother's ups and downs. Ken tries to make brother Byron out to be a real juvenile delinquent, but he comes across as more of a comic figure: getting stuck to the car when he kisses his image in a frozen side mirror, terrorized by his mother when she catches him playing with matches in the bathroom, earning a shaved head by coming home with a conk. In between, he defends Ken from a bully and buries a bird he kills by accident. Nonetheless, his parents decide that only a long stay with tough Grandma Sands will turn him around, so they all motor from Michigan to Alabama, arriving in time to witness the infamous September bombing of a Sunday school. Ken is funny and intelligent, but he gives readers a clearer sense of Byron's character than his own and seems strangely unaffected by his isolation and harassment (for his odd look—he has a lazy eye—and high reading level) at school. Curtis tries to shoehorn in more characters and subplots than the story will comfortably bear—as do many first novelists—but he creates a well-knit family and a narrator with a distinct, believable voice. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-32175-9

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1995

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