Marsden, Carol. The White Zone
28 January 2012, Carolrhoda Books
Nominated for the Cybils by the publisher, who sent the review copy.
Cousins Nouri and Talib live in war torn Baghdad, and Nouri is devastated when his beloved uncle is killed in a bombing. He starts to feel anger toward Talib, because his mother is Sunni, and the Sunni were behind the bombing. Things quickly become more difficult for Talib's family-- Talib is no longer welcome at school, and the family decides to move after their home is bombed. They move to Mutannabi Street, where Talib's father runs a book stall and there is not as much fighting. Nouri misses things the way they used to be with his cousin, but still blames him for his uncle's death. He is very torn because he wants the violence to stop, but he is the one who threw the rock at Talib's window. When Mutannabi Street is the scene of violence and bombing, both boys lose hope, but a freak snowfall (which actually occurred in 2008) in the area cools down the unrest, at least in that small part of the country.
Strengths: There are not too many books about the war in Iraq, and this is a good one for explaining how people can hate others just because of their religion, even when they are family.
Weaknesses: Since this is a difficult bit of history to understand, I would have placed the explanatory note at the beginning of the book so that students were starting with some knowledge of the situation. I will recommend to my students that they read this first.
Rupp, Rebecca. After Eli
14 August 2012, Candlewick
Nominated for the Cybils by Author/Publisher and copy from Candlewick.
Danny has struggled with his brother's death for a while. His mother is
prostrate with grief, and his father has become more brusque and
demanding. Danny has kept a notebook filled with the various ways that
people die, but when he meets a few new friends during summer break, he
starts to move on. Geeky Walter turns out to be a much more interesting
and supportive friend than the diehard jock Peter, and summer resident
Isabelle and her frenetic twin siblings make Danny think about the world
in new ways. He works on Jim's organic farm and learns that his
father's way of life is not the only way. He spends the summer hanging
out, falling for Isabelle, and finally being able to come to terms with
how he really feels about Eli's death.
Strengths: Okay. Not a lot
happens in this book, but it's really good! Rather reminiscent of
Jordan Sonnenblick's work, because while it is essentially a sad book,
it's got really funny writing. The romance is a nice touch, and there's
a lot of good goofiness to alleviate the sadness. The chapter headings
with people who died in alarming ways are a good hook. Great balance of
Weaknesses: The cover won't make boys pick it up, and the
lack of action will turn some off. This is more of a book for 8th
graders and up-- there are some vulgarities and allusions to sex-- just
enough to keep boys interested in reading a book about grief!