SARNY

A LIFE REMEMBERED

The slave child who learned to read in Nightjohn (1993) looks back from the age of 94 on her life during and after the Civil War. It's a moving tale, made more so by Sarny's clipped, matter-of-fact voice—utterly distinct, with strength and determination shining through every line. Paulsen moves away both from the first book's mystic language and explicit brutality; Sarny watches hated slavaowner Waller die of a bayonet wound, and later sits with four gut-shot soldiers (whose names she still remembers so many decades later), but both scenes are virtually bloodless. When it comes to describing the occupation of Laura Harris, Sarny is all but oblique: "She lived in a fancy house in New Orleans where men came and went," and "I don't think too much on her morals. Just think on her as a friend." A friend indeed: Miss Laura, passing as white, not only pays generous wages, but gives Sarny a house and a building for her first school, and makes her heir to a huge fortune. Sarny leaves it all in her daughter Delie's hands and sets out for Texas to start more schools. The next 50 years pass in a few paragraphs, the ending seems abrupt, and, ultimately, the plot takes too many convenient turns; still, Sarny's indomitability will win over skeptics, and the way her ability to read frees more than her body will not be lost on thoughtful readers. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-385-32195-3

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1997

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Miah’s melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson’s previous books.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY

In a meditative interracial love story with a wrenching climactic twist, Woodson (The House You Pass on the Way, 1997, etc.) offers an appealing pair of teenagers and plenty of intellectual grist, before ending her story with a senseless act of violence.

Jeremiah and Elisha bond from the moment they collide in the hall of their Manhattan prep school: He’s the only child of celebrity parents; she’s the youngest by ten years in a large family. Not only sharply sensitive to the reactions of those around them, Ellie and Miah also discover depths and complexities in their own intense feelings that connect clearly to their experiences, their social environment, and their own characters. In quiet conversations and encounters, Woodson perceptively explores varieties of love, trust, and friendship, as she develops well-articulated histories for both families. Suddenly Miah, forgetting his father’s warning never to be seen running in a white neighborhood, exuberantly dashes into a park and is shot down by police. The parting thought that, willy-nilly, time moves on will be a colder comfort for stunned readers than it evidently is for Ellie.

Miah’s melodramatic death overshadows a tale as rich in social and personal insight as any of Woodson’s previous books. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-399-23112-9

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last.

THE STARS BELOW

From the Vega Jane series , Vol. 4

The rebellion against an evil archmage and his bowler-topped minions wends its way to a climax.

Dispatching five baddies on the first two pages alone, wand-waving villain-exterminator Vega Jane gathers a motley army of fellow magicals, ghosts, and muggles—sorry, “Wugmorts”—for a final assault on Necro and his natty Maladons. As Necro repeatedly proves to be both smarter and more powerful than Vega Jane, things generally go badly for the rebels, who end up losing their hidden refuge, many of their best fighters, and even the final battle. Baldacci is plainly up on his ancient Greek theatrical conventions, however; just as all hope is lost, a divinity literally descends from the ceiling to referee a winner-take-all duel, and thanks to an earlier ritual that (she and readers learn) gives her a do-over if she’s killed (a second deus ex machina!), Vega Jane comes away with a win…not to mention an engagement ring to go with the magic one that makes her invisible and a new dog, just like the one that died heroically. Measuring up to the plot’s low bar, the narrative too reads like low-grade fanfic, being laden with references to past events, characters who only supposedly died, and such lines as “a spurt of blood shot out from my forehead,” “they started falling at a rapid number,” and “[h]is statement struck me on a number of levels.”

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last. (glossary) (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-26393-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2019

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