Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Zebra Forest, by Adina Rishe Gewirtz

"So as that summer began, while America counted hostage days and Beth learned to swim, I thought up good lies to tell and climbed trees and lay a lot in the shade." (egalley pg 11-12)

11 year old Annie and little brother Rew live at the edge of the Zebra forest with their Gran.  They keep mostly to themselves, on account of the house and on account of Gran, but Annie and Rew have each other, a battered copy of Treasure Island, the joy of making up bad jokes, and the many trees of the Zebra forest to keep them company on the hot, steamy summer days. 

They are getting along in typical fashion when one summer night, a man rattles the back door and steps into the kitchen.  Before Annie can process what is even happening, the man takes the key they always keep in the knob, drops it in his pocket and tells Annie to stay quiet.  As Annie stands dumbfounded, Rew heads for the phone and then the door, but the man is quick and powerful.  He is also covered in mud, and his clothes are torn.  He has come through the forest.  On the other side of the Zebra forest is the prison.

Now they must wait.  Gran completely shuts down, and Annie and Rew must figure out how to be in the house with the doors shut and the windows closed, with the precarious piles and dirty dishes, with the man always there, always watching.  There will be no more going into the trees to read Treasure Island, no more trips out into the shade.

Adina Rishe Gewirtz has crafted a novel that gives an inside look into mental illness and family.  There is an incredible resilience to both Annie and Rew that shines through even though the two deal with their situation in vastly different ways.  The importance of story (both family and books) is felt throughout. Even though some major points like the Iran Hostage Crisis and the plot of Treasure Island may be unfamiliar to today's readers, Gewirtz does a fine job of weaving them into the greater plot -- using them to give a sense of ticking time as well as examination into real life characters.  This is a book that may not be for everyone, but will definitely find fierce love with the readers who love imperfect characters, finding connections, and those who don't mind feeling a bit off kilter.

Publishing April 9, 2013.

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