Thursday, September 27, 2007

Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain and A New Novel in Verse

I'm sure many of you are familiar with Peter Sis's books. From dinosaurs to ballerinas, ghosts to Christopher Columbus, Sis has written on and about a wide variety of subjects. In his latest book, The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, Sis turns to a very personal and frightening part of his life: his childhood in occupied Czechoslovakia, during the Cold War.

The increasing amount of restrictions placed upon the citizens of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets is told in a deceptively simple yet complex manner. The main thrust of the story is told in simple (mostly) one sentences. However, the drawings are detailed with facts about daily life under Soviet occupation and the fear and suspicion felt by the Czechs and Slovaks. As a child, Sis feared that his drawings could be used against him and he was encouraged to report anyone who showed any sign of falling out of step with Communist thinking, including parents.

There aren't many memoirs or books about life in Communist eastern Europe; this is a welcome addition to the field by a beloved and respected author.

Moving from children's nonfiction to YA fiction....

Confessional time-I'm not a big fan of novels in verse. Some authors, such as Karen Hesse, can pull it off. Others....not so much. So when I turned to the first page in Shark Girl and saw that it was written in verse, I groaned a little. Not another one!

However, any doubts quickly disappeared as I continue to read. And read. And read.

I read the entire thing last night.

That's uncommon for me. I can count on one hand the books I have finished in one sitting.

Fifteen year old Jane was having an ordinary day at the beach with her family when she was bitten by a shark. Feared to be near death, Jane's right arm is amputated.

Shark Girl, however, is about much more than that incident. Jane's attack was captured by another vacationer on film, which is shown throughout the world. Morning news programs and strangers pursue her, wanting, and sometimes demanding, that she "share her story."

"What ifs" and "If onlys" haunt Jane, as do her physical and emotional pains. The impact on her family, friends, and her budding art career are sensitively and acutely written in this fine first novel by Kelly Bingham. Bingham is definitely one on which to keep an eye!

No comments: