A simple story with surprising depth in its examination of truth and compassion.

THE SECRETS OF TREE TAYLOR

In Mackall’s first-person coming-of-age narrative, an aspiring young writer wrestles with the difference between facts and many-layered truths, learning the role of compassion in deciding which secrets need to be shared and which are not hers to tell.

Tree Taylor has two goals during the summer after eighth grade: write an article that will win her the freshman spot on her high school’s newspaper and taste her first kiss. When she witnesses her neighbor holding a rifle, her husband shot, Tree thinks she has her story. As she investigates, she uncovers a long history not only of domestic abuse, but also of coverups—even by her pillar-of-the-community father, the local doctor. Tree struggles as she discovers webs of secrets in her family and community. Where is the truth? Tree is an appealing, naïve 13 (“Somebody swore—the ‘d’ word for the structure that keeps water back”); indeed, the whole book has an old-fashioned feel, harking back to simpler times when teenagers gladly went to the drive-in with their families. Small-town Missouri in 1963 is nicely captured in many references to current events, music and movies. Quotations from famous authors are scattered throughout, reflecting Tree’s focus on writing. Tree’s godlike father is too reminiscent of Atticus Finch to altogether succeed, though; his moralizing and invoking God become sermonic.

A simple story with surprising depth in its examination of truth and compassion. (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-375-86897-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

MAPPING THE BONES

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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A tale driven by its informational purpose, with only a short story’s worth of plot.

LOST CAUSE

From the Seven (The Series) series

Posthumous messages and tantalizing clues send a teenager from Canada to Barcelona in search of a hidden chapter from his beloved grandfather’s past.

One of a septet of simultaneously published novels, all by different authors and featuring cousins who are each left a mission or task in their shared grandfather’s will, this takes Steve to Spain, where he discovers that his elder relative was a member of the International Brigades. He is guided by his grandfather’s old journal and also by Laia, an attractive young resident of the city who lectures him on the Spanish Civil War while taking him to several local memorial sites. Steve slowly gains insight into how it felt to believe passionately in a cause—even, in this case, a doomed one—and then to lose that innocent certainty in the blood and shock of war. The storyline is, though, at best only thin glue for a series of infodumps, and readers will get a stronger, more specific view of that conflict’s drama and course from William Loren Katz’s Lincoln Brigade: A Pictorial History (1989).

A tale driven by its informational purpose, with only a short story’s worth of plot. (map and family tree, not seen) (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55469-944-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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