A compelling historical story that highlights timeless themes.

FREEDOM SWIMMER

A young man lives out his father’s dream and learns the meaning of freedom.

Opening in coastal southeastern China during the 1960s and continuing until the 1970s, this gripping story introduces 11-year-old orphan Ming Hong, who is mourning his mother, who recently starved to death, like countless others during the Great Leap Forward. Ming’s fateful encounter with Lam Feiyen, a girl who was running away from her abusive home, gives him hope and evolves into a sustaining plot strand as the tale dives into the Cultural Revolution era. Sweeping social experiments, such as sending city youths to the countryside to learn through engaging in labor, bring Li to Ming’s village, where the teen boys’ paths cross. Using spare prose and straightforward language, dual narrators Ming and Li relate their perspectives as acquaintances struggling for a sense of purpose while enduring cruelty and suffering imposed by politics that pitted peasants against city dwellers, friends against one another, and children against their own parents. As Ming processes his long-deceased father’s failed bid for freedom and ponders his own ambition to swim to the British colony of Hong Kong, Li persuades Ming they should attempt this escape together. Their breathtaking journey and subsequent events feel plausible and poignant, not only because they are based on the lived experience of the author’s father, but also thanks to Chim’s gift for storytelling.

A compelling historical story that highlights timeless themes. (note about phonetics, map) (Historical fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-65613-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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Riveting, brutal and beautifully told.

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WE WERE LIARS

A devastating tale of greed and secrets springs from the summer that tore Cady’s life apart.

Cady Sinclair’s family uses its inherited wealth to ensure that each successive generation is blond, beautiful and powerful. Reunited each summer by the family patriarch on his private island, his three adult daughters and various grandchildren lead charmed, fairy-tale lives (an idea reinforced by the periodic inclusions of Cady’s reworkings of fairy tales to tell the Sinclair family story). But this is no sanitized, modern Disney fairy tale; this is Cinderella with her stepsisters’ slashed heels in bloody glass slippers. Cady’s fairy-tale retellings are dark, as is the personal tragedy that has led to her examination of the skeletons in the Sinclair castle’s closets; its rent turns out to be extracted in personal sacrifices. Brilliantly, Lockhart resists simply crucifying the Sinclairs, which might make the family’s foreshadowed tragedy predictable or even satisfying. Instead, she humanizes them (and their painful contradictions) by including nostalgic images that showcase the love shared among Cady, her two cousins closest in age, and Gat, the Heathcliff-esque figure she has always loved. Though increasingly disenchanted with the Sinclair legacy of self-absorption, the four believe family redemption is possible—if they have the courage to act. Their sincere hopes and foolish naïveté make the teens’ desperate, grand gesture all that much more tragic.

Riveting, brutal and beautifully told. (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74126-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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A stunning novel that exposes modern fascism and elevates human resilience. (author’s note, research and sources, glossary,...

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THE FOUNTAINS OF SILENCE

The pitiless dictatorship of Francisco Franco examined through the voices of four teenagers: one American and three Spaniards.

The Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936-1939, but Franco held Spain by its throat for 36 years. Sepetys (Salt to the Sea, 2016, etc.) begins her novel in 1957. Daniel is a white Texan who wants to be a photojournalist, not an oilman; Ana is trying to work her way to respectability as a hotel maid; her brother, Rafael, wants to erase memories of an oppressive boys’ home; and Puri is a loving caregiver for babies awaiting adoption—together they provide alternating third-person lenses for viewing Spain during one of its most brutally repressive periods. Their lives run parallel and intersect as each tries to answer questions about truth and the path ahead within a regime that crushes any opposition, murders dissidents, and punishes their families while stealing babies to sell to parents with accepted political views. This formidable story will haunt those who ask hard questions about the past as it reveals the hopes and dreams of individuals in a nation trying to lie its way to the future. Meticulous research is presented through believable, complex characters on the brink of adulthood who personalize the questions we all must answer about our place in the world. 

A stunning novel that exposes modern fascism and elevates human resilience. (author’s note, research and sources, glossary, photographs) (Historical fiction. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-16031-8

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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