In a dark tale like the verso of one of Sid Fleischman's comic adventures of traveling performers, Avi explores the idea that great clowns derive power from a profound sense of the tragic. Impresario Joe McSneed has died, leaving Mrs. McSneed, an acrobat who imagines herself to be "The King of Tipperary's Widow"; her daughter Judy, 15, now in charge; a dispirited crew of other performers; and dogsbody Punch, 12, taken in by McSneed in hope that his barely glimpsed talent might blossom. But now the group's performances are devoid of humor, a lack intensified by their loss, and they're outraged when Punch and his beloved pig inadvertently provoke the kind of laughter Judy now suggests may restore their fortunes. She's proved right; but before most of the men desert, Judy betrays Punch's timid affection by marrying another, and the group is hounded by a grim sheriff trying to take him in custody as an orphan. He agrees to let Punch go free if the group can make him laugh, which they manage to do with a live Punch-and-Judy show—in which Punch nearly dies when Judy's slap-stick begins to deliver blows that are all too real. Midway, one character clearly outlines the varieties of humor, but, curiously, despite a cast and setting proclaiming farce, there's little here. Rather, it's a touching but somber tale, enlivened by idiosyncratic characters and pungent descriptions, of an undervalued, overly modest boy finding his talent and his true friends. Lisker's incisively sketched figures lighten the format. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 30, 1993

ISBN: 0380729806

Page Count: 168

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1993

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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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Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point.


After Hitler appoints Bruno’s father commandant of Auschwitz, Bruno (nine) is unhappy with his new surroundings compared to the luxury of his home in Berlin.

The literal-minded Bruno, with amazingly little political and social awareness, never gains comprehension of the prisoners (all in “striped pajamas”) or the malignant nature of the death camp. He overcomes loneliness and isolation only when he discovers another boy, Shmuel, on the other side of the camp’s fence. For months, the two meet, becoming secret best friends even though they can never play together. Although Bruno’s family corrects him, he childishly calls the camp “Out-With” and the Fuhrer “Fury.” As a literary device, it could be said to be credibly rooted in Bruno’s consistent, guileless characterization, though it’s difficult to believe in reality. The tragic story’s point of view is unique: the corrosive effect of brutality on Nazi family life as seen through the eyes of a naïf. Some will believe that the fable form, in which the illogical may serve the objective of moral instruction, succeeds in Boyne’s narrative; others will believe it was the wrong choice.

Certain to provoke controversy and difficult to see as a book for children, who could easily miss the painful point. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-75106-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2006

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