Compelling historical fiction explores the Byzantine rules governing the social order of 16th-century Venice. Fourteen-year-old Donata, a younger daughter of one of Venice’s wealthiest noble families, has been raised to expect little; according to the complex conventions of her society, only the oldest daughter of the family can expect to marry and leave the household. And to leave the household is what Donata desperately wants. Intelligent and curious, she chafes at the rules that dictate that she remain uneducated and never have the freedom to explore her city. In the tradition of spunky heroines before her, she devises a scheme that will allow her to sneak out of the house disguised as a poor boy and wander Venice, where she meets, befriends, and inevitably falls in love with Noè, a Jewish copyist. At the same time, she successfully petitions her father to sit in on her brothers’ tutoring sessions and thus begins a formal education. Napoli resists the easy anachronism; spunky though Donata is, she remains committed to her family and her society, seeking a solution to her unhappiness that, although somewhat unconventional, nevertheless remains essentially true to her culture and its restrictions. The first-person, present-tense narration allows the reader to encounter Venice along with Donata, from the stately palazzos to the streets populated by beggars and to the Ghetto beyond. Fascinating tidbits of information about Venice’s society, politics, history, and economy find their way painlessly into the narrative. While readers will be rightly skeptical at Donata’s speedy mastery of not only written Venetian but Latin as well, they will nevertheless find themselves absorbed in her story and the snapshot of her city that it provides. (Fiction. 10-15)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-32780-3

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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Han’s leisurely paced, somewhat somber narrative revisits several beach-house summers in flashback through the eyes of now 15-year-old Isabel, known to all as Belly. Belly measures her growing self by these summers and by her lifelong relationship with the older boys, her brother and her mother’s best friend’s two sons. Belly’s dawning awareness of her sexuality and that of the boys is a strong theme, as is the sense of summer as a separate and reflective time and place: Readers get glimpses of kisses on the beach, her best friend’s flirtations during one summer’s visit, a first date. In the background the two mothers renew their friendship each year, and Lauren, Belly’s mother, provides support for her friend—if not, unfortunately, for the children—in Susannah’s losing battle with breast cancer. Besides the mostly off-stage issue of a parent’s severe illness there’s not much here to challenge most readers—driving, beer-drinking, divorce, a moment of surprise at the mothers smoking medicinal pot together. The wish-fulfilling title and sun-washed, catalog-beautiful teens on the cover will be enticing for girls looking for a diversion. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: May 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4169-6823-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...


A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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