Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz; Candlewick Press, $15.99. Ages 8 to 12.
Rishe Gewirtz creates an unforgettable voice in the narrator of this extraordinary debut novel, set during the Iran hostage crisis. Eleven-year-old Annie B. is basically the head of the household, since her grandmother has taken to withdrawing for weeks at a time in the lonely house they live in, with no television and no radio. Annie and younger brother Rew pass the time playing chess, reading “Treasure Island” or playing in the forest. Annie pays the bills, does the shopping and cooking and lies to the social worker (who checks on her and Rew). All Annie knows of her mother is that she ran off; all she knows of her father is that he was killed “by an angry man.” The straightforward simplicity of the narrative cloaks a powerful story of a family suffocated by secrets, until one day a pounding at the door brings an escaped prisoner who takes them hostage and turns their lives upside down.
– Jean Westmoore
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala; Knopf, 228 pages ($24).
The 2004 tsunami that struck coastal communities on the Indian Ocean was a disaster of such incredible swiftness and magnitude that it is nearly impossible to comprehend. For the people who survived it, is remains impossible to escape.
Sonali Deraniyagala, a London college instructor, was visiting her parents in Sri Lanka with her husband and two sons, ages 7 and 5, when the wave took them all away. She was the only one to survive, clinging to a branch as the water receded. Deraniyagala tells of her life before and after the wave with a rawness that can only come from having suffered unimaginable loss. Memories of her family haunt her, and the pain only sharpens with time. She cannot bear to return to their home in London, cannot bear to see her children’s friends, cannot bear to have someone else move into her parents’ house.
Friends and other family members are at a loss at how to help, and she does not care – she violently, angrily does not care. Eventually, though, she describes gradually dipping her toes back into the life she had, and also, gradually, taking warmth along with pain from memories of her children and husband.
“Wave” is not a story of triumph or of “moving on.” It is instead a deeply, wrenchingly personal story of one woman’s refusal to give up everything she loves, no matter what.
– Melinda Miller