Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

This is not an action-stuffed animal, but instead a thought-provoking drama that would make for good discussions with grades 5 and up. When an escaped convict flees to Annie, Rew, and Gran's house taking the family hostage, the threesome examine their lives, the definition of a criminal, and making ethical choices. What at first seems black and white to Annie and Rew's childlike view, becomes fuzzy as they get to know the convict and his history. Unsure what to do with their new knowledge, Annie and Rew must decide what is the right thing to do and in the process grow up and mature quickly.

Eleven-year-old Annie is a well-developed character as the story is told from her first person point of view. While her internal changes and struggles are clear, Rew and Gran suffer a bit more in the tale. Gran seems to be suffering from depression and while Dad and daughter discuss if she's broken and do not think so, I thought her grief from losing her husband and the trauma of her son's situation meant she needed some counseling and/or medication. She was a mess. Rew suffers from anger issues, and while Annie reminds the reader of it, he seemed to be slamming his bedroom door repetitively. The climax shows him being transformed by an incident in a way that clarifies the extreme stubbornness.

When the convict escapes from the jail by their house and takes them hostage, the three know he is a murderer. As Annie learns his story over a period of time, her view of him changes from one that is "bad" to one that has "made a mistake." She finds that her hate has turned to empathy and she isn't sure she likes it. While the circumstances surrounding the randomness of the convict happening to find their house stretches the imagination, not to mention that it contradicts Gran's attempt to erase their existence to the point a lawyer can't find them, it is necessary for the plot to move forward. While a bit weak in plot structure, the strong character development makes up for it.  

The chapters are short and the book is roughly 200 pages. while I wasn't convinced that the girl wouldn't tell someone in the beginning about the convict, I was convinced later on as she learned the convict's story. The author addresses this by her worrying that the family would get shot like the hostages in Iran. The parallels between Rew and Annie's situation and the pirates in "Treasure Island" was an interesting touch in showing how the two cope with anger and neglectful adults. Annie is self-reliant and forced to be more grown-up than most children her age. She talks about how her Gran as being an excellent liar and not being so bad at it herself. She lies to the social worker because she doesn't want to be separated from her family and makes the best of her situation. More importantly, she learns the importance of facing problems, acceptance, and forgiving mistakes in others.

4 Smileys

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