With her father away fighting Turks and her mother so often “under the weather,” still grieving over long-dead son Edward, 15-year-old Rosalind James has grown independent visiting the bazaar with her Indian friend, Isha, and causing comment among the other British officers’ wives at the club. Rosalind’s headstrong and helpful nature gets her into trouble quickly when her father returns from the front in 1919. He fires a man too old to sweep the family house, and the old sweeper sells his grandchild to feed the family. Rosalind saves the baby but nearly finds herself sent to England for a proper education. Only her mother’s fear that Rosalind will die as Edward did allows Rosalind to stay in her beloved India. However, when she becomes interested in what the famous Gandhi is preaching (not to mention the handsome Max Nelson); Major James packs Rosalind off to live with her aunts. How will a girl raised in India survive the cold climes of a homeland she’s never visited? What will her sweet Aunt Louise and her prickly Aunt Ethyl make of their impetuous niece? National Book Award winner Whelan’s characters are more types than people, and there is little of the flavor of the subcontinent in this overstuffed, occasionally pleasant tale of a plucky young woman in Raj-era India. (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: April 19, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4424-0931-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2011

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.


A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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A strong sense of place and an appealing protagonist cannot overcome outdated stereotypes of Indigenous people.


In pre–World War I Australia, 12-year-old Savannah Dawson wants to be a whaler like her father.

She knows whaling is in her blood, however, as a girl, she is stuck as a cook’s helper. Given the chance, she would gladly follow in her father’s footsteps even though that is how both her brothers lost their lives. Her mother has also passed away, and her absence is palpable. Through her new friend, Figgie, an Indigenous boy whose real name is Calagun—Savannah renames him after an ineffectual attempt to pronounce it—she learns about Indigenous beliefs positioning orcas as the guardians of the Earth and the need to live in harmony with nature. As she comprehends the balance between whaling and the beasts of the deep, she has increasingly cryptic dreams. Meanwhile, industrialization is encroaching thanks to wealthy American investor Jacob Bittermen, who wants to introduce factory processes to whaling. Savannah, who is White by default, is a well-developed, three-dimensional character who starts off only caring about her own goals but grows through her friendships. Whaling terms and Australian slang add atmosphere and pull readers deeper into the colorful world. Unfortunately, the Indigenous characters feed into tropes of mystical guides. Figgie is not as well rounded as Savannah; his actions support her journey of self-discovery, but apart from that, he does not appear to have a purpose in the story.

A strong sense of place and an appealing protagonist cannot overcome outdated stereotypes of Indigenous people. (list of abbreviations, glossary) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: July 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64603-070-5

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Fitzroy Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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