School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 5-7During his sixth-grade year, Jason concentrates on his violin studies; on his best friend, Caleb; on two other classmates who constantly harass him; and on the ill-health and eventual death from AIDS of his beloved principal, Mr. Carr. These elements intermingle as the students learn about Mr. Carr's illness and homosexuality, and as they compete musically and on the playground. The author's concept is good, but the book has a number of flaws. The characters are all identifiable as either "good" or "bad" and almost never stray from that category in word, deed, or talent. Several issues, including homosexuality and the destruction of personal property, are raised, but never fully discussed or followed realistically through to their conclusions. The passages dealing with Jason's violin studies and performances may prove to be too complex for non-musical readers.Darcy Schild, Schwegler Elementary School, Lawrence, KS
Susan Dove Lempke
Mr. Carr is a principal any student would love, joking on the intercom, coming to school once a year in his pajamas, and lending support to all. An aspiring violinist, sixth-grader Jason has received great encouragement from Mr. Carr, so when the principal falls ill and students make cracks about his being a "fairy," Jason feels both puzzled and distressed. As Jason's everyday life unfolds (violin lessons, a family celebration, Hebrew school), he gradually learns more about AIDS and about tolerance. Jason is a likable character, but his first-person narrative articulates every little feeling and thought Zalben wants to convey, and Mr. Carr is far too good to be true. The book's strength lies in Zalben's refreshingly ordinary depiction of Jewish family life and in her portrayal of a young musician's love of his craft. Although heavy-handed in places, this clearly reflects the author's desire to promote understanding about an important topic.
Jason dreams of becoming a violinist, a dream his beloved principal, Mr. Carr, is helping him to realize. When Mr. Carr starts missing school the rumors begin, and finally the truth comes out: Mr. Carr has AIDS and is spending his final days with relatives. When schoolmates begin echoing the intolerance they hear at home, Jason defends Mr. Carr, little imagining the devastating personal consequences.
Zalben (Goldie's Purim, 1991, etc.) keeps sentimentality to a minimum; this is less a story about AIDS and death than it is a story of a decent, caring boy facing mindless hatred for the very first time. The tragedy is kept mostly offstage, and the most terrible, heartbreaking moment involves the destruction of an object instead of a deathbed scene. Although the event doesn't come as much of a surprise, few will remain unmoved, for Zalben's gift, in simple, unobtrusive writing, is to make readers feel what Jason feels. At the end, what they'll feel is hope.