Erskine's debut juggles a number of hefty subjects and themes (religious faith, American patriotism, anti- and pro-war attitudes, bad parenting), but with mixed results. Fourteen-year-old Matilda ("Matt") believes that "life is safer alone." She has been unwillingly shuffled around distant family members' homes after being taken away from her abusive father, and is eventually sent to live with a Quaker couple, Jessica and Sam, and their disabled adopted son, Rory. Adjusting to her new life is tough, and sarcastic Matt doesn't make it any easier for her new, overprotective guardians. She's generally belligerent, dismissive of Rory and frequently antagonizes her pro-war World Civics teacher, whom she dubs Mr. Warhead (who "is so patriotic he is practically drooling red, white, and blue"). Amidst this "disaffected youth attempting to adjust to her new school and family" plotline, Erskine adds scenes involving Matt's introduction to Quakerism, a vicious school bully and the town's division over the war in the Middle East, but she doesn't always dig deep enough to flush out the questions that are raised. What happened to Matt's birth parents? Would a blatantly prowar teacher realistically be allowed to proselytize to his students in a public school setting? What does Matt really think about Quaker values? While thought-provoking at times, this story tries to cover a great deal of ground and might have fared better if the author focused on one or two main issues in greater depth. Ages 11-up. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Heidi Hauser Green
It seems that fourteen-year-old Matt has reached the end of the road. Loopy, her most recent guardian, is off to do some missionary work and is passing Matt along to the only relatives who haven't yet had the girl, Sam and Jessica Fox. From the start, Matt isn't too sure about her new "parents." They're Quakers, and Matt is definitely not a religious girl. They're caring for a disabled foster child who Matt can only think of as the Blob. They're not afraid to show what they feel, even when their feelings could get them into trouble. Matt, meanwhile, has worked hard to become as invisible as possible. Still, here she is: plunked down in the Fox household, trying just to get by, trying not to get hurt, trying not to be noticed. Slowly, very slowly, Matt begins to feel safe in her new home. Carefully, she begins to form attachments to her new family. Fearfully, she begins to recognize a growing danger, as the Foxes stick to their peaceful principles and continue to hold their peace vigils, even as many members of the community around them become aggressive in their support of the war in the Middle East. Tension escalates until the day when Matt realizes she could lose everythingwhether or not she stands up for what she believes. Kathryn Erskine's Matt is a fragile character with a solid core of strength, and this novel beautifully explores her life-saving, life-changing growth.
VOYA - C. J. Bott
After Matt's (Matilda) father abuses her mother to death, Matt starts her stays with the round of relatives. As the book opens, third-cousin Loopy is driving Matt to a second cousin of hers before hitting the road for Jesus. At fourteen, Matt has learned some survival skills-don't feel, don't get close, don't hope, and as much as possible, don't talk. Sam and Jessica already foster one child, Rory, and Matt plans to use all her skills to survive until she is old enough to run away to Canada. Conflict ensues among the vicious school bully, Rat, and his gang of extreme war supporters; Quaker pacifists Sam and Jessica; their Quaker friends; and Sam's weekly peace vigil, underscoring the many different definitions of what it means to be an American. Focusing on Matt and her crippling past that is slowly revealed through vivid flashbacks keeps the reader centered on Matt's coming-of-age/survival story. This focus saves the book from being preachy, although there is enough for spirited discussions about the current era and war. Sam, Matt's foster almost-father, is a character who endears himself to nearly everyone. The book's structure is more complicated that it first appears, but the complex levels of life and broken humans woven together in this small town show the author's expertise in structuring a good story. In the end, the narrator chooses to abandon her restricting and no-longer-needed survival skills to become the hero of her own life.
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
Matilda has survived a traumatic childhood. She witnessed the death of her mother at the hands of an abusive father and since has been moved from relative to relative. She is paralyzed by violence and suspicious of people. Matt, as she prefers to be called, is emotionally distant and as she is being sent to live with the second cousin of her third cousin, she knows that there is little place else for her to go. But Sam and Jessica are Quakers who take in another foster child who is developmentally delayed. Matt senses that this is not going to work out, but does what she can to do what is expected at home and at school. However, her high school social studies teacher is on a one-man crusade to make students aware of the necessity for the war in the Middle East. Given her trauma, Matt relates more to the victims, the women and children caught in the crossfire of war. Going with Sam to Quaker Meetings, she hears the call for peace and knows about his refusal to enter into combat. Things reach a climax when local churches are vandalized for their anti-war views, and Matt is targeted by the teacher and a student who uses the teacher's opinion to his own advantage. In the end, Matt finds the courage to speak out for herself and for her foster family. The novel gives a balanced look at the ramifications of violent actions, both on a personal and a national level. Students will find much to talk about in terms of how cultures can promote tolerance and strive for peace.
School Library Journal
Fourteen-year-old Matt, a survivor of family violence, has learned to withdraw, to make herself invisible to the Beasts of the world, and to run away from things she can't cope with. This notion is entirely counter to the philosophy of Sam and Jessica Fox, her latest foster parents, whose Quaker belief is to face the fire. Their caring and concern, both for Matt and for Rory, their other foster child, a severely disabled seven-year-old boy, begin to break down her resistance. As Matt is increasingly drawn into the family's life, she worries that Sam's peace activism puts him squarely in the path of a wave of violent vandalism in their community. Her own antiwar opinions about the Iraq conflict have led to trouble with a teacher, and she has drawn the attention of a school bully. The effect of this moving first-person story of a foster child slowly opening herself to family love is lessened by its heavy political message. The issues are interesting, the present-day Pennsylvania setting realistic, and the high school believable, but readers may find the picture of anti-pacifist violence (including a death at a demonstration in Washington) exaggerated.
Kathleen IsaacsCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Matt (short for Matilda and not Mattie, thank you) is a teenager whose experiences in the foster system have made her ruefully cynical and bitter. When she comes to live with Sam and Jessica, Matt is puzzled by their commitment to peace-both in their personal lives and in their advocacy against the war in the Middle East. Intrigued, she begins to accompany them to First Day Meetings and learns about the Quaker religion. Matt finds unexpected peace in the silence of Meeting, and begins to practice peace by standing up to a comically belligerent, fiercely pro-war social-studies teacher and a run-of-the-mill school-bus bully, both of whom have their own issues. While the message sometimes seems right on the surface, the setting is unusual and the characters play their roles in ways that readers will understand. As one of the first, if not the first anti-war novel for this generation, Erskine's story will surely open some minds to the idea that peace is nothing to be ashamed of. A good discussion starter on several levels. (Fiction. 11-14)