Reviews by sdunav
Interesting World-Building...
...and characters, but the writing style put me off a bit. And the plot was rather predictable, as was the romance. But overall, the story was better than the cover would have you think!
Moving, Wrenching Poetry
The poems are beautiful, and haunting, and describe a time and a place (Oklahoma's panhandle in the early 1930's) so well that I really felt transported. The things that Hesse writes about - dust, over and over again, throughout the book, gritty and heavy and so pervasive - but also pregnancy, horrible accidents, rain, apples, music, and the longing to run away - really tell a very powerful story. In that respect "Out of the Dust" reminded me of the intertwined stories in the Spoon River Anthology. And Billie Jo? She's more than a little like an older Caddie Woodlawn, with her red hair, conflicts with her parents, and her independent nature.

I do think that "Out of the Dust" is better for kids on the older edge of the Newbery award readers - the sudden death and grief in "Out of the Dust" are not easy topics, for either adults or kids.

But the beauty, redemption, and hope makes it worth it.
Not Profound, But Fun
The Westing Game was a great read for a summer day (and evening): relaxing, and interesting enough to keep me turning pages, but not so compelling that I couldn't put it down when it was time to go swimming or catch fireflies. It's the YA/older elementary kid's equivalent of Janet Evanovich - so I'm a little surprised that it won the Newbery award, actually. Maybe there were a lot of mystery lovers on the selection committee in 1979.

In a lot of ways, this reminded me of a cheesy 80's movie - something about the tone of the story, with its unabashedly greedy characters - and when I looked around the net, sure enough The Westing Game movie (also called Get a Clue!, but not to be confused with the 2002 Lindsey Lohan movie without an exclamation point) was made in 1997. Ray Walston played Sandy McSouthers and Diane Ladd played Berthe Erica Crow, but I've never heard of the rest of the cast. I guess it was a kind of a forgettable movie.

The Westing Game wasn't profound, but it was fun, especially if you like codes, clues, spooky mansions, and chess, and I'll bet I would have absolutely loved it if I'd read it when I was twelve.
Funny and Sad
I didn't think I was going to like Kira-Kira, the 2005 Newbery winner. Part of it was the cover - lots of people seem to love it, but it seemed a little stark to me, and on top of this, I knew that a main character dies in the story. I just didn't feel like reading one of those Reader's Digest type child death tearjerkers.

The writing on the very first page changed my reluctance to read it, though I still had some reservations about the death later in the story. The cover, I actually like now (after reading the book) - go figure. Though I still think it could use a little more color.

"My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: kira-kira....Kira-kira means "glittering" in Japanese. Lynn told me that when I was a baby, she used to take me onto our empty road at night, where we would lie on our backs and look at the stars while she said over and over, "Katie say 'kira-kira, kira-kira.' " I loved that word! When I grew older, I used kira-kira to describe everything I liked: the beautiful blue sky, puppies, kittens, butterflies, colored Kleenex (pg. 1). "

Kira-Kira is the story of a Japanese-American family in the U.S. heartland in the 50's and 60's. The Takeshima family lives in rural Iowa, but moves to small town Georgia, where Katie and Lynn's father gets a job as a chicken-sexer (identifying the sex of newly hatched chicks), and her mother works in a chicken-processing plant. As you might expect, racism, the experience of second generation immigrant kids, and brutally hard work play important roles in the story. All of this really takes second stage to the characters and Kadohata's writing, though. Her descriptions never failed to surprise me. Take this description of the girls' strange Uncle Katsuhisa, who attempts to distract his nieces from crying about moving to Georgia (and not being able to find their favorite things in storage during the ride), by teaching them to spit like he does:

"Lynn and I tried to rumble our throats like him.

"Hocka-hocka-hocka!" he said.

Lynn and I copied him: "Hocka-hocka-hocka!"



He turned to his open window, and an amazing wad of brown juice flew from his mouth. The brown juice was like a bat bursting out of a cave. We turned around to watch it speed away. A part of me hoped it would hit the car behind us, but it didn't. I leaned over Lynn and out the passenger window. "Hyaaahhhh!" I said, and a little trickle of saliva fell down my chin (p. 22)."

The intimate, often funny portrayals of the Takeshima family reminded me (very favorably!) of "The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963", by Christopher Paul Curtis (the 1996 Newbery Honors book), which also deals with the banality and ubiquity of racism in a totally matter-of-fact manner.

And it turns out that Kadohata's account of Lynn's death was sad, but it was not trite or Reader's Digest-like at all. The ending was beautiful, in fact, and very satisfying:

"Now and then I thought I heard Lynn's lively voice. The cricket sang "Chirp! Chirp!" but I heard "Kira-kira!" ....My sister had taught me to look at the world that way, as a place that glitters, as a place where the calls of the crickets and the crows and the wind are everyday occurrences that also happen to be magic (p. 243-4).?

There are a lot of rather adult references in Kira-Kira, and the lack of action and a meandering storyline in much of the book will not endear it to younger readers, either. But I think it's a wonderful choice for teens, especially girls. Adult readers who like this may also want to check out "Bento Box in the Heartland", by Linda Furiya - a memoir (with recipes!) set a few years later than Kira-Kira, by the daughter of another chicken-sexer.
Interesting Twist on Paranormal Mystery
This third (and final?) volume in the Golden City series takes some interesting directions in its description of gender and sexuality in its alternate historical world (early 20th c. Portugal and some islands somewhere south of the Canary Islands). I don't think readers that haven't read the first two books would completely understand the characters and their world, however. The mystery was a little plodding but the characters and the world-building were excellent.