MILKWEED

When the reader first meets the narrator of this tale, he knows himself only as “Stopthief.” He is a Warsaw street orphan, without morals, without culture, without community—until Uri takes him in to join his pack of fellow orphans, all Jews. Life is good for the newly renamed Misha, until the Jackboots arrive and force him and his fellow orphans into the ghetto, where life becomes increasingly more desperate and community—both that of the orphans and of Janina, a little girl whose family he adopts—increasingly necessary. Spinelli’s choice of narrator is a masterstroke. Because Misha has no sense of anything except his own immediate needs and desires, he has no urge to explain the bizarre and fundamentally irrational events that befall him. He simply reports graphically, almost clinically, on the slow devastation of the Jews of Warsaw and on the changes in his own relationships, to friends and world, brought about by the experience. His own psychological and social growth is almost lost on the reader until a coda, that still makes no attempt to explain, finally finds him at peace. Stunning. (Fiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-81374-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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THE LOUD SILENCE OF FRANCINE GREEN

It’s 1949, and 13-year-old Francine Green lives in “the land of ‘Sit down, Francine’ and ‘Be quiet, Francine’ ” at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles. When she meets Sophie Bowman and her father, she’s encouraged to think about issues in the news: the atomic bomb, peace, communism and blacklisting. This is not a story about the McCarthy era so much as one about how one girl—who has been trained to be quiet and obedient by her school, family, church and culture—learns to speak up for herself. Cushman offers a fine sense of the times with such cultural references as President Truman, Hopalong Cassidy, Montgomery Clift, Lucky Strike, “duck and cover” and the Iron Curtain. The dialogue is sharp, carrying a good part of this story of friends and foes, guilt and courage—a story that ought to send readers off to find out more about McCarthy, his witch-hunt and the First Amendment. Though not a happily-ever-after tale, it dramatizes how one person can stand up to unfairness, be it in front of Senate hearings or in the classroom. (author’s note) (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-50455-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2006

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Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point.

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin.

The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyne’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice.

Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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