A book, a friend, and a piece of sculpture put small cracks in the shell that an abused Polish-German foster child has built around herself, but Pressler allows only very observant readers to glimpse the hurt that shell was built to contain. Hoping that her Aunt Lou will find a way to secure custody of her, Halinka makes the best of a constricted, dreary group home placement, keeping a notebook and other tokens in a secret hideaway, lingering over her favorite book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and carefully avoiding thoughts of her mother and her past. To the surreptitious pleasures of sneaking away at night to write and passing herself off as a beggar_both to gather more donations for a charity fund drive and to get a little extra for herself_Halinka adds the unexpected benefits of companionship when she shares a hoarded chocolate bar with a troubled roommate. And she has an epiphany of sorts when she visits a park and is profoundly affected by a particular statue's beauty. Throughout, she casually mentions scars, bruises, sudden bouts of weeping or nausea, and moments of rage_clues to an inner turmoil that she neither shares nor effectively confronts herself. Thus distanced, readers may admire Halinka for her resilience, but can't honestly care about her. An unwieldy cast inhabits the sketchily laid-out post-WWII setting. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-5861-3

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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Witty repartee between the central characters, as well as the occasional well-done set piece, isn’t enough to hold this hefty debut together. Teenagers Seth and Kendra are dropped off by traveling parents at their grandfather’s isolated Connecticut estate, and soon discover why he’s so reluctant to have them—the place is a secret haven for magical creatures, both benign and decidedly otherwise. Those others are held in check by a complicated, unwritten and conveniently malleable Compact that is broken on Midsummer Eve, leaving everyone except Kendra captive in a hidden underground chamber with a newly released demon. Mull’s repeated use of the same device to prod the plot along comes off as more labored than comic: Over and over an adult issues a stern but vague warning; Seth ignores it; does some mischief and is sorry afterward. Sometimes Kendra joins in trying to head off her uncommonly dense brother. She comes into her own at the rousing climax, but that takes a long time to arrive; stick with Michael Buckley’s “Sisters Grimm” tales, which carry a similar premise in more amazing and amusing directions. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59038-581-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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From England’s Children’s Laureate, a searing WWI-era tale of a close extended family repeatedly struck by adversity and injustice. On vigil in the trenches, 17-year-old Thomas Peaceful looks back at a childhood marked by guilt over his father’s death, anger at the shabby treatment his strong-minded mother receives from the local squire and others—and deep devotion to her, to his brain-damaged brother Big Joe, and especially to his other older brother Charlie, whom he has followed into the army by lying about his age. Weaving telling incidents together, Morpurgo surrounds the Peacefuls with mean-spirited people at home, and devastating wartime experiences on the front, ultimately setting readers up for a final travesty following Charlie’s refusal of an order to abandon his badly wounded brother. Themes and small-town class issues here may find some resonance on this side of the pond, but the particular cultural and historical context will distance the story from American readers—particularly as the pace is deliberate, and the author’s hints about where it’s all heading are too rare and subtle to create much suspense. (Fiction. 11-13, adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-439-63648-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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