In this episodic historical novel, Clem Fontayne’s chances of success seem slim when he leaves Missouri in 1860 to seek his father in California. As the story opens, 14-year-old Clem buries his mother and baby sister, then briefly struggles to survive on their deteriorating homestead. Nearly starving, he agrees to work for the exploitative Warren family. In the short time he stays with them, he becomes a close friend with the daughter, Molly. Determined to head West, Clem takes a job with the Pony Express, traveling with a company of rough bushwhackers to Nebraska, where he tends animals at a way station. Each leg of his trip, which ends in California, exposes Clem to injustices of the time. A black bushwhacker who is a former slave recounts his harsh history; Clem witnesses brutal treatment of Indians; and when he travels with Mormons, he comes to believe they suffer unfair bias, too. The effect is sometimes didactic, but otherwise Levitin (When Elephant Goes to a Party, p. 333, etc.) keeps the plot moving along at a steady pace, with enough danger to keep things lively. Action and historical context, however, overshadow character development. Clem, who narrates the story, is likable but not vividly drawn, and the many secondary characters are one-dimensional. While the end is predictable, those who like to read about the Westward Movement will enjoy the journey. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-439-29314-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2001

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An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American...


Crystal-clear prose poems paint a heart-rending picture of 13-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa’s journey from Seattle to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

This vividly wrought story of displacement, told from Mina’s first-person perspective, begins as it did for so many Japanese-Americans: with the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor. The backlash of her Seattle community is instantaneous (“Jap, Jap, Jap, the word bounces / around the walls of the hall”), and Mina chronicles its effects on her family with a heavy heart. “I am an American, I scream / in my head, but my mouth is stuffed / with rocks; my body is a stone, like the statue / of a little Buddha Grandpa prays to.” When Roosevelt decrees that West Coast Japanese-Americans are to be imprisoned in inland camps, the Tagawas board up their house, leaving the cat, Grandpa’s roses and Mina’s best friend behind. Following the Tagawas from Washington’s Puyallup Assembly Center to Idaho’s Minidoka Relocation Center (near the titular town of Eden), the narrative continues in poems and letters. In them, injustices such as endless camp lines sit alongside even larger ones, such as the government’s asking interned young men, including Mina’s brother, to fight for America.

An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American internment. (historical note) (Verse/historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8075-1739-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Moose’s world is turned upside down when his family moves to Alcatraz Island where his Dad has taken a job as a prison guard. Super-responsible Moose, big for 12, finds himself caught in the social interactions of this odd cut-off world. He cares for his sister who is older, yet acts much younger due to her autism and he finds his life alternating between frustration and growth. His mother focuses all of her attention on ways to cure the sister; his dad works two jobs and meekly accepts the mother’s choices; his fellow island-dwellers are a funny mix of oddball characters and good friends. Basing her story on the actual experience of those who supported the prison in the ’30s—when Al Capone was an inmate—Choldenko’s pacing is exquisite, balancing the tense family dynamics alongside the often-humorous and riveting school story of peer pressure and friendship. Fascinating setting as a metaphor for Moose’s own imprisonment and enabling some hysterically funny scenes, but a great read no matter where it takes place. (lengthy author’s note with footnotes to sources) (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-399-23861-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2004

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