Friday, October 18, 2013

CYBILS Review: Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

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In an extraordinary debut novel, an escaped fugitive upends everything two siblings think they know about their family, their past, and themselves.

When eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. "If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it with excellence," Gran would say. That was when Gran was feeling talkative, and not brooding for days in her room — like she did after telling Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie tells stories, too, as she and Rew laze under the birches and oaks of Zebra Forest — stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent. But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home, four lives that will never be the same. Driven by suspense and psychological intrigue, Zebra Forest deftly portrays an unfolding standoff of truth against family secrets — and offers an affecting look at two resourceful, imaginative kids as they react and adapt to the hand they’ve been dealt.


I have mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, I enjoyed the story. On the other hand, I'm not sure many kids would pick this up and read it to the end. It's a rather unusual story with the conflict mostly being internal.  The mystery aspect I think readers who like to think and try to figure things out might enjoy, but Annie has had to grow up a lot faster than most kids and so doesn't sound like a typical eleven-year-old.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is the relationships between the four main characters and how those relationships evolve: Annie, her brother, Rew, their grandmother, and the escaped prisoner.  

Strengths: The characters all have depth with strengths and weaknesses that contribute to the conflicts in the story.  There is enough tension to keep the story moving and led me to want to finish the book.

Weaknesses: I'm not sure how compelling most middle grade readers would find this.  As I said above the conflict is mostly relational and internal.

Overall, a well-written books with great character development, but more appropriate for readers who enjoy internal and relationship conflict.

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