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Saturday Book Review: “Out of the Dust,” “Letters From Rifka” and “The Candy Shop War”

April 17th, 2010

Reading this week:

Man, oh, man, I guess I felt like a couple of good cries this week. I’ve been reading nothing but young adult fiction, and found three great books. I picked up a copy of “Letters From Rifka,” by Karen Hesse, that I had on hold at the library. The library is great this way. I wasn’t planning on reading anything too heavy this week, but the book showed up, and I was ready for it. I read “Letters From Rivka” straight through and bawled my eyes out. It’s the story of a young Jewish girl in 1919, who is fleeing Russia for America. It’s good historical fiction, but is based on the story of the author’s auntie, Lucy Avrutin, and “this story is, above all else, Aunt Lucy’s story,” says the author.

After that, of course I had to read another Hesse book — this time, her best-known work (and Newbery award winner) “Out of the Dust.” Billie Jo’s story is written in stanza — the poetry is beautiful. She lives in Depression-era Oklahoma, loses her mother and baby brother in a horrible accident, and her father, in his grief, disappears into himself.

Both of the Hesse books are horrifying, and she doesn’t pull any punches, but life is like that sometimes, isn’t it? And she does do a little bit of deus ex machina at the end, but life is like that sometimes, too, eh? Hesse has written a number of books, and I’ve heard that all of her stuff is good. I get worried, sometimes — I get protective of kids and don’t want to expose them to anything too harsh. But sometimes we can better prepare ourselves for “real” life, reading about harsh realities in a book.

Besides — like my own kids always tell me, “It’s only a book.”


“The Candy Shop War,” by Brandon Mull (who wrote the “Fablehaven” series) is a twisted little novel for kids and my daughter and I both enjoyed the heck out of it. I don’t want to give anything away, but kids + magic candy + evil witchy candy shop owner + nice ice cream man (or is he?) = excellent read. They’re making a movie out of this one — we’re eager to see how they film it. Lots of great, candy-colored images, coming to life.

Happy Saturday!

— wm


  1. Nan says

    Aha! Thank you, will look out for the Candy Shop War… may wait for the boys to grow up slightly before introducing them to any harsh-reality fiction, since life has enough knocks for now!

    April 17th, 2010 | #

  2. Lakeitha says

    Llondyn is reading the Fablehaven series now. I’ll have to pick up the Candy Shop War for her. Thanks for the recommendations.

    April 18th, 2010 | #

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