Jakarta Missing

Jakarta Missing

4.3 3
by Jane Kurtz

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Dakar is scared. When her family left East Africa to spend a year or two in Cottonwood, North Dakota, Dakar's older sister, Jakarta, was adamant about staying behind. Now Jakarta is all by herself in Kenya...and she's missing.

It's terrible to go through life cringing, sure that at any minute a blow is going to come from somewhere. Dakar doesn't want to worry

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Dakar is scared. When her family left East Africa to spend a year or two in Cottonwood, North Dakota, Dakar's older sister, Jakarta, was adamant about staying behind. Now Jakarta is all by herself in Kenya...and she's missing.

It's terrible to go through life cringing, sure that at any minute a blow is going to come from somewhere. Dakar doesn't want to worry, but she can't help it. What if Jakarta was in the middle of a Nairobi bombing? What if Mom gets caught by hoodies and forced back into that place when Jakarta isn't even there to help? What if Dad decides to go off to save lives and is seized by some mysterious disease? If Dakar were able to do three really brave things, would that be enough to keep her family together?

Almost everything in Cottonwood, North Dakota, requires bravery from a girl who has grown up in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Senegal. The possibility of a new friend, navigating a new school, and preparing for snow—the first Dakar will ever see—is the least of it. Jakarta is missing...when she's home and when she's not. And for Jakarta, Dakar will battle the universe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ambitious and complex, Kurtz's (Faraway Home) novel doesn't ultimately succeed, but offers a heady blend of universally relevant insight and an appreciation of the exotic. Raised in Africa, 12-year-old Dakar comes "home" with her parents to spend a year or two in North Dakota. She misses her older sister, Jakarta, who has insisted on staying behind at boarding school, and who has always been the leader. Her fears about her new environment are made all the more painful by her father's disdain for fear not even an elephant attack scares him. Bookish in a way entirely credible for a shy, expatriate child, Dakar thinks about literary and biblical characters and wishes she, too, could fashion her own quest. "What would Odysseus do?" she asks herself at one point. Kurtz captivates when describing Africa, be it the grace of the wilderness or the chaos of "Nairobbery," as Dakar calls it, and she astutely conjures adolescent dialogue and thoughts. But she overloads her plot. Jakarta is forced to join the family after her school is bombed; shortly after her return, their mom goes off to nurse a long-lost aunt (who doesn't have a telephone); and, without consulting his still-absent wife, their father rushes off to Guatemala to work with earthquake victims (no phones there, either), leaving his daughters alone for weeks. Multiple subplots involve a girls' basketball team, a painful family secret and a cook at Dakar's school who talks in aphorisms. Even with its solid beginning, the novel simply cannot sustain so much activity. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
When Dakar's parents move from Kenya to Cottonwood, North Dakota, it is a whole new world for this sixth grader. Born to American parents who were living in Africa, Dakar has spent all of her childhood in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt and Senegal. Her family thrives on adventure, and according to Dakar's father "it is a poor life in which there is not fear." This time around, Dakar has problems in making the adjustments. A bright, well-read child and definitely a little worrywart, she misses her idealized sixteen-year-old sister Jakarta, who was allowed to stay in Kenya at a boarding school. Even when Jakarta is reunited with the family, things do not improve dramatically for Dakar. Exacerbating the situation are family matters, primarily the absence of both parents for extended periods of time. Dakar eventually comes to realize that life can be an adventure, whether it is experienced in exotic locations in Africa or in the land of ten thousand lakes. Jane Kurtz's novel is insightful, if not engaging. Certain issues in the book could have benefited from more development. For example, Jakarta (who is adopted and of Iranian, Japanese, and African-American heritage) is concerned whether she will be the only nonwhite student at the school, but does not seem to have issues with students chanting "Tarzan, Tarzan" during girls basketball games. The portrayal of the parents is somewhat lacking, and their actions border on being incredible. The author's childhood experiences seem to mirror those her main character Dakar¾Kurtz lived in Africa as a child. However, her ambitious novel about a coming of age adolescent girl does not quite meet the mark. 2001, Greenwillow Books, $15.95 and $15.89. Ages10 to 14. Reviewer: Jeanette Lambert
Dakar is an imaginative but scared middle-schooler coping with her family's move to North Dakota after living in various African countries throughout her childhood. Her strong-willed, adopted older sister, Jakarta, arrives in the United States after the rest of the family and adjusts to her surroundings by becoming the basketball team's star player. Their father remains committed to serving the less fortunate in impoverished countries, whereas their mother wanted to return to her native state to find her roots. Both are somewhat distant from the girls' lives. Dakar looks to her sister's strength as she continues to forge her first peer friendship and deals with her fear that her parents might separate. Kurtz uses her own knowledge of Africa to bring vividness and beauty to Dakar's memories. Many of these references to Dakar's childhood, however, seem random and unexplained, with their importance not integrated well with the various story lines. Although Dakar certainly would have reason to be fearful, her reactions are not presented in such a way that readers can relate to her, and the adolescent interactions do not ring true. With its well-written sports action, however, this book would be recommended best to middle school girls with an interest in basketball or sister relationships. PLB . VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Greenwillow, 272p, . Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Julie Wilde SOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
This is an unusual story, one that may prove highly appealing to those younger YAs interested in exotic locales and comparing other cultures with American life. One of the characters (Melanie) befriends the main character Dakar because Dakar has lived in Africa and knows so many things that are different from Melanie's small town in North Dakota where Dakar's family now lives—perhaps many readers will find themselves in Melanie's place looking at Dakar and her family with fascination. Dakar is white, actually, born in Africa with parents devoted to helping in third-world countries and restless for adventure. Dakar is in 6th grade now, fearful of many things including the separation of her family. She has always relied on her older sister Jakarta for strength, but Jakarta has stayed behind in Africa at her boarding school. Just as Dakar is making progress adjusting to American life, Jakarta comes home, full of rebellion and restless energy. It is Jakarta's major presence in this novel that squeaks it into the YA category. Jakarta quickly channels her enormous athletic skill into the high school basketball team, becoming the star player and enabling the team to compete in regional finals. Much is implied about the role of athletics in a person's life, since the father feels it is a waste of valuable energy that should be spent in helping others in desperate need (what he has spent his whole adult life doing). The mother and the daughters are quite aware of the sacrifices they are making for their father's values. They know their needs can't compete with the millions around the world suffering from disease and devastation. Dakar, in particular, knows that while she has gained a greatdeal from the experiences in Africa, in other ways she has missed the feeling of security that comes from belonging in one place, surrounded by a nurturing family, with a garden to plant, putting down roots of all types. Kurtz tells this story well, with wonderful descriptions of places and people. Jakarta is a riveting character around whom the whole story revolves. She is the one who dares to ask the necessary questions of her family; she is the one who cares most about Dakar. The basketball sequences are related with passion, obviously told by a writer who has been to many exciting games. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 268p, 00-056195, $15.95. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Sixth-grader Dakar struggles to cope with her family's move from Africa, where her father worked to help the needy and gloried in adventure, to North Dakota, where she feels just as much an outsider as she did in Kenya, Egypt, Ethiopia, and boarding school. Her beloved older sister, Jakarta, stays behind; when forced to join them, she is first angry and then distant, immersed in high school basketball. When their mother and father leave suddenly and separately to do good elsewhere, the two girls manage on their own, but Dakar feels bereft. A winter storm provokes the emotional crisis that forces her to call for help. Kurtz convincingly portrays both the bewildering mix of emotions that accompany an expatriate's return "home" and the complications of family life when adults and young adults have different goals and needs. Dakar and Jakarta and, to a lesser extent, their parents are developed characters with realistically complex motivations and less-than-perfect understandings of one another and of themselves. The questions Dakar poses about doing good, and her admirable recall of appropriate Bible quotations, add flavor to the story. However, Jakarta, an adopted child of Irani/African-American/ Japanese heritage, worries, "Is there going to be anyone here who looks like me?" but readers don't see her coping with the fact that there isn't. Although some may be left feeling that the story changes direction too often and loses its way, other readers will be caught up in it and will devour the details of exotic foreign and everyday family and school lives.-Kathleen Isaacs, Edmund Burke School, Washington, DC Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this slow-moving contemporary novel, a sixth-grader contrasts her new life in North Dakota with her childhood in Africa, while her family struggles with their differing hopes for the future. When Dakar and her parents move to Cottonwood, North Dakota, for a year, leaving her older sister Jakarta in Africa, nothing seems right to the girl. Her parents, both of whom remain largely one-dimensional characters, only contribute to her worries. Her charismatic father longs to be elsewhere, working with Doctors without Borders or helping refugees. Her mother, who grew up in North Dakota, seems distant and ambivalent about being back. Dakar longs for her sister, but when Jakarta reluctantly joins them, the happy family Dakar hopes for still doesn't emerge. Instead her mother goes away to help an ailing aunt, not realizing that Dakar's father leaves shortly after her to do rescue work in Guatemala. While high-schooler Jakarta devotes her time to basketball and leads her team to a series of wins, Dakar spends far too much time alone with no adults to care for her. Dakar's lyrical memories of Africa help sustain her, but may prove confusing to readers unfamiliar with the countries she mentions. Similarly, her frequent allusions to the Bible, Russian rulers, and The Water Babies will be more distracting than meaningful for many readers. Kurtz's (Faraway Home, 2000, etc.) love for both Africa and North Dakota comes across clearly, but she has woven too many strands into her novel without strong enough characterizations to hold them together. (Fiction. 11-14)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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Chapter One

Dakar stood at the top of the stairs and held her breath. No voices. No music. No rustling pages. She wanted...the click of a fingernail clipper. The tiniest creak of a chair sending little splinters into the silence. No. Nothing.

She clutched her throat melodramatically. Deadly cholera had swept through the house while she was asleep. She was the only survivor. Nothing to do but go down...into the valley of dry bones.

"Stop it, Dakar," she told herself. "You're scaring me." She grabbed on to the railing. Was this what books called a banister? She'd always wondered, reading those books, what it would be like to slide down a banister. In her imagination it had been a little like flying. Now, staring down at the polished wood, she felt stupid with fear.

"It is a poor life in which there is no fear." Dad had that pinned on a scrap of paper above his desk. And he said it to her one time -- the afternoon the elephant charged them. Dad also thought that if you gave in, even once, to things like fear and injustice and cruelty, they would get a toehold and come back the next time double strong.

All right. A banister couldn't possibly be as scary as an elephant. Dakar closed her eyes and scooted herself onto the railing. But what if she slid off halfway down and split her lip? What if she went off the end so hard she sprained her ankle? She hastily slid back off. "You're such a worry wart," her big sister, Jakarta, would say. "Dakar, the worrymeister." By some kind of magic, Jakarta seemed to have inherited 100 percent of Dad's risk genes.

Thinking about Jakarta made Dakar seasick with longing so that she had to sit down on the topstep and put her hands on either side to steady herself, still surprised to feel carpet there. "Isn't this luxurious?" Mom had said the first day they walked into the house. "We've never had carpet before." She'd stretched out flat in the middle of the living room, laughing as she tickled her palms with carpet strands. But Dakar missed the cool, dark floors of the Nairobi house. She missed the geckos, like ghost tongues flicking and licking up the walls. She wasn't even sure she knew how to make friends with a two-story house. More than anything else, of course, she missed Jakarta.

How could Jakarta have decided to stay in Kenya? Maybe ... Dakar chewed her fingernail thoughtfully, sadly ... was Jakarta sick of always having to take care of a worrymeister little sister? She glanced up at the banister. Okay. She'd do it. She could become less of a wart, she just knew it.

"Dakar, you think too much," Jakarta always said.

"Don't think, don't think," Dakar told herself as she climbed onto the banister again. She didn't dare look down.

She let go. Her stomach whooshed up so far she could taste it, and then she flew off the end, staggered a few steps, and stumbled forward. She landed right in front of the dining room table. Mom, who always sat at the table and read in the mornings, was not there.

Dakar stood up and rubbed her knees. She knew they'd grow big black-and-blue bruises, and she felt a slight tingling of pride. She'd done it -- for Jakarta.

Where was Mom? She felt a tingling of nervousness. "Dakar's famous overactive imagination is at it again," Jakarta would say. But it really was a mysterious morning, wasn't it? She cautiously moved to the back door. Her father was chopping wood. His arms rose and fell, and for a second Dakar thought of women pounding corn. He was singing a mournful Celtic tune, not one of the sea chanties or West African songs he used to sing all the time.

Dakar watched him warily. Hadn't Dad sung this very song when he was making waffles on the morning he told them they were going to leave Kenya? "We've decided it might be time to spend a year or two in The States." he'd said, reaching for Mom's hand over the mango syrup. "We'll be living only one long day's drive from where your mother grew up. Hey, we've explored the world...now let's explore the land of ten thousand lakes and the land of the flickertail."

Jakarta had instantly said, "No. I'm not going." She had at least fifteen reasons, she said, starting with not being able to make friends in the U.S. Jakarta had said the letters very distinctly. "Youuu. Essss."

Dakar had wanted to say, "I won't go, either," but she desperately wanted the four of them together, and she was pretty sure Jakarta would change her mind. So, instead, she'd said, "But what will you do?"

"I'll write articles about all my African research," Dad said cheerfully. "Something I've been putting off for years. We've picked a town not far from both the University of North Dakota and a branch of the University of Minnesota, so I'll have resources." He laughed his rumbling laugh. "It also has an airport thirty minutes away in case I need to get out of town fast."

Dakar sighed. But Jakarta hadn't changed her mind. So here she was, and the whole family wasn't together, anyway, because here Jakarta wasn't.

Suddenly Dad looked up, stopped right in the middle of a mournful line, and waved. Then he bent, scooped up an armful of wood, and walked toward her, smiling. She had always thought that his smile was bedazzling sunlight and that if she could only get close enough to it, she could get warm and never worry, worry, worry about things again. When he got inside the door, she ran to him and put both her arms around one of his, leaning her head against his shoulder. His beard smelled of incense, and his shoulder smelled of soap and sweat. "Getting some breakfast?" he asked, holding her back so he could look down into her face....

Jakarta Missing. Copyright © by Jane Kurtz. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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