"Bobby's reflections, enhanced by powerful images of nature, convey the young protagonist's uncertainties and a sense of the world itself being on the cusp of change, in the fall of 1962," according to PW. Ages 8-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
It is 1962. There are missiles in Cuba pointing at the U.S., and in Russia pointed who knows where. For the people living in Keely Baya hard scrabble seaside village in northern Englandthe horrors of World War II are still fresh enough that World War III does not seem like a stretch. It is during the missile crisis that Bobby first sees the fire eater, a man who has found ways to endure great physical pain. Bobby is dealing with many changes in his life, including beginning a private school with a sadistic teacher, the mysterious illness of his father, and his changing relationships with local friends Ailsa and Joseph. The author weaves together many events and characters into a story where everything seems to fit. One of the things that I most admire about his books is the quiet dignity of his characters. Once again he reminds us that miracles do happen, but not without some help and faith. 2004, Delacorte, Ages 10 to 14.
Bobby Burns enjoys his life. He has a friend named Ailsa Spink who can heal injured animals in her dreams. He rough and tumbles with his pal Joseph. His parents love him and see that Bobby has a grand time on summer vacation. The looming school year appears to be one of promise in a new school with new opportunities to prove himself. Then one fateful day, Bobby encounters the fire-eating McNulty. Suddenly there is trouble in Bobby's heretofore tranquil world. The Cubans allow the Soviet Union to place missiles directed at the United States in their country, and a world war seems too real a possibility. Bobby's new schoolmates are cruel; he is made to feel as if he were an outsider. Perhaps the appearance of the mysterious fire-eater and illusionist is a portent of what is to come in Bobby's world. Almond is in fine form in this coming-of-age novel that examines the nature of acceptance and rejection. McNulty, Ailsa, Joseph, and Bobby encounter hostility, prejudice, and cruelty from people who are strangers. Their interactions strangely mirror the events in the world around them as well. Almond creates a cast of characters who care deeply about each other and the fate of the world in which they live. Fans of the fire-illusionist Dustfinger from Cornelia Funke's Inkheart (Chicken House/Scholastic, 2003/VOYA December 2003) might speculate about the connection these two creatures (and stories) share. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Delacorte, 176p., Ages 11 to 15.
Teri S. Lesesne
Gr 7 Up-It's 1962, and 12-year-old Bobby and his mom leave their small, seaside village in the north of England for a day trip to Newcastle. There, Bobby is staggered by his encounter with Mr. McNulty. This odd little man is his own wandering sideshow; he pierces his cheeks with a dagger, escapes from shackles, and breathes fire in exchange for coins. At home, Dad recognizes McNulty as a fellow veteran of World War II, who came home from Burma with his brain boiled by "too much war, too much heat, too many magic men." Meanwhile, Bobby enrolls at the prestigious Sacred Heart school with his new, upper-crust neighbor, Daniel. Both quickly suffer at the hands of Mr. Todd, a masochistic teacher. As Daniel plots revenge, Bobby worries that his father's increasingly frail health might prove fatal. Changing relationships with friends Ailsa and Joseph also bear heavily on Bobby, but overhanging everything is the Cuban missile crisis. During the climactic night as the disparate characters, including McNulty, gather at a bonfire on the beach, Bobby's fear that the flash of nuclear annihilation is as likely as dawn fulfills Almond's firm evocation of this particular time and place. The protagonist's ferocious love for his family, community, and life itself amply reward readers able to appreciate the uncompromising British idiom. The author's trademark themes-courage in resisting evil; the importance of love among friends and family, especially in the face of crisis; suffering and death amidst peace and beauty; and the fragility of life-are here in full, and resonate long after the last page is turned.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
It's 1962, a year observed through the eyes of Bobby, a 12-year-old who lives in a shabby seaside village. Like the choicest of Almond, this is moody and layered. Woven throughout are dark, dramatic threads that begin to coalesce: father's mysterious illness, retribution against a sadistic private-school teacher, a traveling fire-eater (the shell of a WWII veteran) who shelters nearby, the Cuban missile crisis and the encroaching threat of nuclear war. Juxtaposed against somber images of historical, physical, and institutional pain and fear are the warmth, dependability, and light of home, family, loyal friendships, the play of a lighthouse light as it moves across the window, and a belief in miracles. There is a heart-stirring sense that this is a time and space between-between war and nuclear holocaust, between childhood and adolescence, between traditional and modern ways, between life and death. And finally, what a difference it makes when a whole community holds its collective breath, momentarily expecting hell-a hell that never comes. Breathtakingly and memorably up to Almond's best. (Fiction. 10-14)