A slow read with an emphasis placed on the “benefits” of Jean’s Christianized education and a focus that glosses over the...

A PROMISING LIFE

COMING OF AGE WITH AMERICA

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was born to a Frenchman, Toussaint, and a Shoshone woman, Sakakawea, who assisted Lewis and Clark on their legendary expedition.

When Sakakawea’s husband’s post-expedition plans fall through, they decide to leave St. Louis behind, leaving their only son in the nominal care of Capt. Clark, who had offered to adopt the boy. Problem is, Capt. Clark is hundreds of miles away, and Jean is left to attend an all-boys school of “mixed bloods”—children of Native and white parentage. Jean adapts. When Capt. Clark finally makes it back to St. Louis, Jean learns that his place as Clark’s “son” has been taken by Clark’s natural-born newborn son. Though Clark continues to financially support Jean’s education, Jean is left to grow up on his own and becomes further immersed in “white” ways. This narrative distances readers from the harshness of life for Native American children who were forced to attend missionary schools. McCully creates a fictionalized character who interacts with apologetic yet complicit racists, including Clark himself, a slave owner who contributed to the western expansion that destroyed Native American nations. Sakakawea’s voice is muted as she permanently leaves her 7-year-old son behind, only wishing the young child well in his adaptation to the white world. The depth of Sakakawea’s experience is lost, her depiction merely that of a passive captive who lacks any real emotion.

A slow read with an emphasis placed on the “benefits” of Jean’s Christianized education and a focus that glosses over the genocide that occurred among Native American people. (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-439-31445-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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

NEVER FALL DOWN

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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