A beautifully written elegy to coming of age in bygone days that, unfortunately, oversimplifies complex issues.

FISHBONE'S SONG

A white boy narrates his upbringing by a solitary old white man in a tiny cabin in the woods.

The unnamed narrator, a boy of “thirteen…or fourteen, maybe fifteen,” has lived all his remembered life by Caddo Creek with an old man named Fishbone. In the evenings, Fishbone sips moonshine and tells the boy stories: of how the boy as a baby came to live with him (three different versions) and of Fishbone’s own life—how he got his name, women and love, fast cars and running moonshine, and getting shot in Korea during the war. Gradually the boy comes to understand, as he spends his days closely observing the natural world and hunting alone in the forest, that Fishbone’s stories are a map to a way of thinking and living. Paulsen’s writing is lyrical and his story allegorical in its exploration of how a young person growing up in virtual isolation who is given time and space can develop into the person he needs to be. As such, it’s a pointed and necessary antidote to today’s plugged-in, nature-deprived childhood. Where it skews, however, is in its easy romanticizing of running moonshine, drinking and driving, lack of formal education, and an alternate, unsubstantiated version of the Whiskey Rebellion.

A beautifully written elegy to coming of age in bygone days that, unfortunately, oversimplifies complex issues. (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5226-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read.

MOMENTOUS EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

From the Life of a Cactus series

In the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), Aven Green confronts her biggest challenge yet: surviving high school without arms.

Fourteen-year-old Aven has just settled into life at Stagecoach Pass with her adoptive parents when everything changes again. She’s entering high school, which means that 2,300 new kids will stare at her missing arms—and her feet, which do almost everything hands can (except, alas, air quotes). Aven resolves to be “blasé” and field her classmates’ pranks with aplomb, but a humiliating betrayal shakes her self-confidence. Even her friendships feel unsteady. Her friend Connor’s moved away and made a new friend who, like him, has Tourette’s syndrome: a girl. And is Lando, her friend Zion’s popular older brother, being sweet to Aven out of pity—or something more? Bowling keenly depicts the universal awkwardness of adolescence and the particular self-consciousness of navigating a disability. Aven’s “armless-girl problems” realistically grow thornier in this outing, touching on such tough topics as death and aging, but warm, quirky secondary characters lend support. A few preachy epiphanies notwithstanding, Aven’s honest, witty voice shines—whether out-of-reach vending-machine snacks are “taunting” her or she’s nursing heartaches. A subplot exploring Aven’s curiosity about her biological father resolves with a touching twist. Most characters, including Aven, appear white; Zion and Lando are black.

Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3329-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Chilling, difficult, and definitely not for readers without a solid understanding of the Holocaust despite the relatively...

THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

A young boy grows up in Adolf Hitler’s mountain home in Austria.

Seven-year-old Pierrot Fischer and his frail French mother live in Paris. His German father, a bitter ex-soldier, returned to Germany and died there. Pierrot’s best friend is Anshel Bronstein, a deaf Jewish boy. After his mother dies, he lives in an orphanage, until his aunt Beatrix sends for him to join her at the Berghof mountain retreat in Austria, where she is housekeeper for Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. It is here that he becomes ever more enthralled with Hitler and grows up, proudly wearing the uniform of the Hitler Youth, treating others with great disdain, basking in his self-importance, and then committing a terrible act of betrayal against his aunt. He witnesses vicious acts against Jews, and he hears firsthand of plans for extermination camps. Yet at war’s end he maintains that he was only a child and didn’t really understand. An epilogue has him returning to Paris, where he finds Anshel and begins a kind of catharsis. Boyne includes real Nazi leaders and historical details in his relentless depiction of Pierrot’s inevitable corruption and self-delusion. As with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2006), readers both need to know what Pierrot disingenuously doesn’t and are expected to accept his extreme naiveté, his total lack of awareness and comprehension in spite of what is right in front of him.

Chilling, difficult, and definitely not for readers without a solid understanding of the Holocaust despite the relatively simple reading level. (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62779-030-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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