MY OWN WORST ENEMY

A nonconformist teenager changes her style to fit into the Barbie-wannabe clique at a new school. Though Eve does it to please her parents, readers will wonder why she bothers; her mother, a traveling saleswoman, is seldom home, and thanks to a slovenly older brother and a radically clueless, unemployed father, she lives in a filthy shambles of unfinished home improvement projects. Interrupting her narrative for long rants (“I think it’s totally unfair that girls have to worry so much about how they look”) that become the basis of a teen column in the local paper, Eve recounts her efforts to cultivate class queen Lisle while keeping her embarrassing home life secret; the plotline is never more than a pretext, however, for introducing adult and young adult women trying on—comfortably for the most part—conventional gender roles and expectations. Most of the characters remain opaque; Sonenklar sends conflicting signals about whether Eve’s mother is deliberately staying away or not, and gives readers no help understanding why her father would refuse to inquire about a promising job opportunity. In the end, Lisle invites herself over, and Eve’s subsequent banishment from the fashion plate circle gives her a chance to wear old clothes and gain instant acceptance from arty social outsiders in her class. Lacking in the humor and imagination of Bug Boy (1997) and Bug Girl (1998), this is likely to leave readers more puzzled by its ambiguities than intrigued by issues it raises. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 15, 1999

ISBN: 0-8234-1456-6

Page Count: 149

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1999

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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KEVIN AND HIS DAD

There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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