WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE

In World War II, the United States fought Japan for control of the Pacific islands, but what about the people who already lived on those islands? This brief and powerful story will help to keep alive the memory of indigenous families caught in the crossfire between the Japanese and American armies. Kento, son of a Japanese official, and Joseph, a villager, are friends on the island of Saipan in the spring of 1944, and it is their friendship and experiences during the war, related in Joseph’s first-person point of view, that will bring history home. The final scene, in which thousands of Japanese men, women and children make suicidal leaps off Bonzai Cliff into the sea—and others are butchered before they ever get to the precipice—is so horrifying that this small tale will long linger. The understated design, which includes Japanese characters in the chapter titles and brief, impressionistic poems as chapter lead-ins, makes this volume stand out. An important and little-known perspective on World War II. (historical note, further reading) (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59078-661-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Front Street/Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2010

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

MAPPING THE BONES

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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PRIVATE PEACEFUL

From England’s Children’s Laureate, a searing WWI-era tale of a close extended family repeatedly struck by adversity and injustice. On vigil in the trenches, 17-year-old Thomas Peaceful looks back at a childhood marked by guilt over his father’s death, anger at the shabby treatment his strong-minded mother receives from the local squire and others—and deep devotion to her, to his brain-damaged brother Big Joe, and especially to his other older brother Charlie, whom he has followed into the army by lying about his age. Weaving telling incidents together, Morpurgo surrounds the Peacefuls with mean-spirited people at home, and devastating wartime experiences on the front, ultimately setting readers up for a final travesty following Charlie’s refusal of an order to abandon his badly wounded brother. Themes and small-town class issues here may find some resonance on this side of the pond, but the particular cultural and historical context will distance the story from American readers—particularly as the pace is deliberate, and the author’s hints about where it’s all heading are too rare and subtle to create much suspense. (Fiction. 11-13, adult)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-439-63648-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

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