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Scorpio's Child

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Fourteen-year-old Afton is alienated from her mother, who is the perfect wife when her sailor husband is home, but emotionally distant when he is away. When her mother?s brother, Bailey, turns up ? an uncle Afton never knew existed ? Afton begins to wonder who her mother really is. With quiet determination, Afton sets out to uncover Bailey?s secret, and along the way she learns the price that a family pays for letting the past fester unresolved. In a style richly evocative of small-town southern life in the ...
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Fourteen-year-old Afton is alienated from her mother, who is the perfect wife when her sailor husband is home, but emotionally distant when he is away. When her mother’s brother, Bailey, turns up — an uncle Afton never knew existed — Afton begins to wonder who her mother really is. With quiet determination, Afton sets out to uncover Bailey’s secret, and along the way she learns the price that a family pays for letting the past fester unresolved. In a style richly evocative of small-town southern life in the 1940s, Scorpio’s Child shows Kezi Matthews at her best. The characters that populate this poignant coming-of-age novel are as unusual and complicated as the situations that bind them. Matthews’s straightforward handling of difficult themes creates a depth of feeling that will leave a lasting impression.

When a strangely-behaving uncle she has never heard of comes to live in her family's house in a small Georgia town, fourteen-year-old Afton, grieving over her brother's death in World War II, tries to unravel the secrets her mother refuses to share with her.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set during the summer of 1947, Matthews's (John Riley's Daughter) stirring novel at once captures the period nuances of life in post-WWII South Carolina and limns a timeless portrait of family sorrows and secrets. Fourteen-year-old narrator Afton's brother, Francis, perished two years ago at age 18 on a battlefield in Europe. When her mother's silent, mysterious brother, whom Afton never knew existed, comes to visit, Afton suspects that her mother is harboring secrets from the past. Mama will say only that Bailey has been through "an ordeal" and needs time "to get on his feet," and asks Afton not to mention Bailey's arrival in her letters to her father, at sea with the merchant marines. Matthews deftly and subtly draws a parallel between Francis and Bailey: Afton notices that her mother's face lights up when she talks to Bailey, the same as it did when she spoke to Francis, and her mother even offers Bailey her brother's room. The heroine dreams at night about her brother "cold and hungry in his grave," and wonders if it is wartime experiences that haunt the man as he paces incessantly in Francis's room. The girl blames herself when Bailey is falsely suspected of murder, after which Mama discloses the cause of his unhappiness. In a poignant, pivotal moment, Afton's unfailingly candid, credible voice articulates both her guilt and the sense of loss that she and her mother share ("And then it hits me so hard I feel as though my heart might burst. Mama loves Bailey the way I love Francis. She probably thought he was dead. Then she looked up one day, and there he was again"). A hopeful ending caps this gracefully crafted fiction, starring a memorable heroine and a strong supporting cast. Ages11-14. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Fourteen-year-old Afton is Scorpio's child, trying to understand why her mother has never talked about brother, Bailey, and why she won't explain the terrible things he went through. Now an uncle she didn't know she had shows up one day, sleeping in her brother's room¾the brother who was just killed on a World War II battlefield. Here is a gripping novel written from Afton's point of view¾the pain she feels over her own brother Francis, "with his stubborn, curly hair the color of cornflakes...Not here. Never here again." Afton's adolescent love for John Howard and his "chocolate-pudding eyes" is realistically portrayed, as well as her discovery of her mother's secret—even secrets. At times the language seems a bit too adult for a teenager's voice¾"inside my dream the world is abloom with great tethered clouds of azaleas," but the emotions, the searching, the longing for acceptance by peers and adults—including her mother—are all very real. The story provides an excellent sidebar to classroom studies of World War II, opening a window on the home front and the mix of grief and pride experienced by Gold Star families. 2001, Cricket Books, $15.95. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Karen Leggett
In the summer of 1947, in small-town Gillford, South Carolina, 14-year-old Afton is still mourning the wartime death of her beloved older brother. When her "strange, squinty-eyed" Uncle Bailey, a relative Afton has never even heard of, arrives to stay in her brother's room, Afton is hostile and wary. Her mother says that Bailey has "been through an ordeal and to just make him welcome without a lot of silly questions"—but not to mention Bailey to Afton's father, away at sea. Afton, of course, sets out to learn the truth about Bailey, but she has other issues on her mind as well: a new girl has set her sights on the boy Afton fancies, while the plight of a neglected child tugs at Afton's heartstrings. The suspicious death of the child's mother brings many secrets to light, and Afton comes close to bringing more tragedy into the life of Bailey, who is trying to hide the shame of being an ex-con—but she is also responsible for proving his innocence in this death. This beautifully written coming-of-age tale, by the award-winning author of John Riley's Daughter, has some of the Southern flavor and small-town atmosphere of To Kill a Mockingbird, and the characters are well drawn. Afton's curiosity and persistence are admirable and believable, and her emotional trials are sensitively rendered. Readers will quickly become wrapped up in the mystery of Bailey's past and Afton's attempts to uncover the truth. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Cricket Books, 152p., Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; KLIATT
Fourteen-year-old Afton's father, a merchant marine, tells her that the two of them, like most sailors, are tied to the stars. Afton's best friend, Deenie, encourages her to consult astrology for advice—she is unsure just what seems to be guiding her life. The death of her brother, a World War II soldier, is still fresh in Afton's mind when her Uncle Bailey comes to stay during one of her father's absences. Uncle Bailey, a ghost of a man, is put in Afton's brother's old bedroom, and his presence seems to haunt the house. A supposed veteran, Uncle Bailey works irregularly and keeps odd hours, often disappearing late at night. Afton is certain that her mother and Uncle Bailey are hiding details of their relationship and their past, and when she discovers the truth, she secretly and unintentionally causes the ousting of Bailey from her town and tarnishes her family's reputation. Written in short chapters that chronicle the summer of 1947, Matthews's novel depicts rural southern life during World War II. Her story is rich with characterization—even secondary characters are well drawn and three-dimensional. Matthews builds lazy suspense throughout the novel while successfully supporting two equally formed subplots involving a local Romeo and a wayward almost-orphan. At the crux of the novel is Afton's strained relationship with her mother, an uneasy alliance shaped by silence. A quick read, Matthews's brief text masks a depth uncommon to much middle-grade literature. VOYA CODES: (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Cricket Books, 160p, Pattee
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Set in South Carolina during the summer of 1947, this novel explores family and small-town dynamics from the perspective of 14-year-old Afton. Her father works for a shipping company out of Charleston and her brother was killed in the war. The girl and her mother have a tempestuous relationship, and the arrival of an uncle whom her mother had never mentioned before strains things further. She is told to be understanding toward Bailey because he has suffered terribly, but she is fearful of this odd, mournful man. The nosy townspeople assume he was a prisoner of war, but Afton becomes consumed with finding out about his past and why her mother is so secretive about it. The murder of a local woman sets things in motion, and because of some of the things Afton has told her best friend, Bailey, who served time in prison, is accused of the crime. The real murderer is found, but Afton's mother is terrified of how people will react to the scandal. When Afton realizes what the years of keeping secrets have done to her mother, she decides to confess her own part in exposing Bailey's story. The mood of the book is like a storm brewing, blowing through town and then clearing the air, a metaphor that the author uses throughout. The resolution comes quickly, and not all questions are answered, but there is a sense of hope that the family will weather the storm and survive. A thoughtful read that should be appreciated by those who enjoyed Patricia Reilly Giff's Lily's Crossing (Delacorte, 1997) and Mary Downing Hahn's Stepping on the Cracks (Clarion, 1991).-Cheri Estes, Detroit Country Day Middle School, Beverly Hills, MI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
It's the summer of 1947 in small-town South Carolina, and 14-year-old Afton has a lot to worry about. Her beloved brother died in the war, and her father, a merchant marine, is rarely home, leaving her alone with her increasingly unhinged mother. The beautiful Jo Helen has come to town, turning the head of John Howard, Afton's longtime intended beau. The waif-like Pearl Ann, a "sorry-looking child from the cheap, stale-beer side of town," has attached herself to her, tugging Afton's unwilling heartstrings. And a mysterious man-an uncle Afton has never heard of-has moved in, disturbing what little peace remains in her household. Matthews (John Riley's Daughter, 2000) lets Afton tell her story in the present tense, vividly bringing to life the climatological and cultural closeness of a small Southern town, where just about anything becomes grist for the neighborhood gossip mill. Her voice is searingly honest in describing her relationships, particularly when speaking of her mother: "All I know is that the older I get, the wider the distance between us grows, and now, with Bailey here, it has a sharper edge to it." While voice, setting, and relationships are skillfully presented, the story itself lacks momentum, plodding along until the end, where events rush to resolve themselves in a most melodramatic fashion after Pearl Ann's mother is found murdered and Uncle Bailey's terrible secret is found out. And despite the emotional honesty of the bulk of the narrative, the conclusion seeks an easy and unconvincing rapprochement between mother and daughter. Ultimately, superbly realized voice and atmosphere cannot here compensate for flawed plotting. (Fiction. 11-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142400791
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 3/29/2004
  • Pages: 160
  • Age range: 11 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 14, 2011

    Easy read, couldn't put it down!

    What a quick, easy and intriguing read! The characters are well rounded and the plot keeps you interested. Highly recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2002

    A Book for all readers

    Scorpio's Child is filled with interesting characters that we can relate to on some levels. Afton, inquisitive, stubborn, tender. Afton's mother, Barbara, secretive and haunted. Bailey, mysterious and sometimes frightening.An enjoyable read

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2002

    Have To Read!!!

    I recommend Scorpio's Child for everyone!!!Like her first book, 'John Riley's Daughter,' Kezi just has a way of stringing words together that makes you not want to put her books down. Once you start, you just have to continue to see what's going to happen next. I really enjoyed reading both her books, and can't wait til her next one comes out.

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