I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Zebra Forest by Adina Gewirtz
Published by Candlewick Press on 2013
Genres: Young Adult, Family, Multigenerational, Siblings
Buy on Amazon
In an extraordinary debut novel, an escaped fugitive upends everything two siblings think they know about their family, their past, and themselves. When eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. "If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it with excellence," Gran would say. That was when Gran was feeling talkative, and not brooding for days in her room — like she did after telling Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie tells stories, too, as she and Rew laze under the birches and oaks of Zebra Forest — stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent. But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home, four lives that will never be the same. Driven by suspense and psychological intrigue, Zebra Forest deftly portrays an unfolding standoff of truth against family secrets — and offers an affecting look at two resourceful, imaginative kids as they react and adapt to the hand they’ve been dealt. From ZEBRA FORESTWe called it the Zebra Forest because it looked like a zebra. Its trees were a mix of white birch and chocolate oak, and if you stood a little ways from it, like at our house looking across the back field that was our yard, you saw stripes, black and white, that went up into green. Gran never went out there except near dusk, when the shadows gathered. She didn’t like to be out in full sunlight usually, and told me once she didn’t like the lines the trees made. Gran was always saying stuff like that. Perfectly beautiful things — like a clean blue sky over the Zebra — made tears come to her eyes, and if I tried to get her to come outside with me, she’d duck her head and hurry upstairs to bed. But then it would be storming, lightning sizzling the tops of the trees, and she’d run round the house, cheerful, making us hot cocoa and frying up pancakes and warming us with old quilts. We had few rules in our house, but keeping out of the Zebra Forest in a storm was one of them.
Perhaps this makes me sound like a total hipster, but I enjoy reading books that aren’t very commercial. I love books that have some literary merit as well as entertainment value. When Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz popped up on my radar, I knew I had to read this middle grade debut. First of all, it’s published by Candlewick, from whom I have come to expect intelligent books. Second of all, that cover y’all. That cover. Third, I love books about siblings and troubled kids. Fourth, it seemed like it would be a quiet and not very in your face sort of read — which is another thing that I very much appreciate. Thankfully, for me, Zebra Forest delivered on all fronts.
Annie and Rew are brother and sister. They live with their grandma in a house on the outskirts of a forest that they call zebra forest, because of the trees. Annie is the oldest, at 11 years old and is mature for her years. You see, her grandma is kind of agoraphobic, so it’s up to Annie to pick up groceries and pay bills. School has let out for the summer. The summer should be relatively low key. Only, there’s this big jail break out. Unfortunately, one of the escaped convicts decides to take up residence in Annie’s house and holds them all hostage. Mirroring this is the hostage situation in Iran, which Annie sees on the news (again, I love literary books with themes and stuff, ESPECIALLY BOOKS AIMED AT KIDS). Of course, some secrets come to light and with each turn of the pages of Zebra Forest, I found myself surprised, but also enraptured by the writing style. ALSO. Going in, I totally did not realize that Zebra Fiction was historical fiction, so that was also a pleasant surprise.
Annie is quite precocious but not in an annoying way. I mean, she’s reading things like Treasure Island, which shows up quite a bit in Zebra Forest and discussing why certain characters are her favorite. As a fellow reader, I love when characters express their love of certain treasured books. I also loved how close Annie is with her brother, Rew. I love how she kind of takes care of him. I know I know, kids shouldn’t play the surrogate role at all, that’s not okay, but their bond was very special to me. I also liked how responsible Annie was, like she has her self together, more together than a lot of older people. I suppose, I just really identified with her, even if I could not decide if she had Stockholm syndrome or not.
Going in, I knew that Zebra Forest would not be one of those plot thrill ride sort of books and to not expect that, despite the summary. So, I read this book for the characterization and depiction of family relationships. I was actually very satisfied by the book. I loved how complicated the relationships were- both between Annie and Rew and between Annie and the convict. I loved the in-depth look we got at each of the characters. It goes without saying that Adina Rishe Gewirtz did not dumb down her book for the audience. I actually think that clever kids who loved books like Bridge To Terabithia will enjoy Zebra Forest.
Disclosure: Received for review