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Fiction Reviews of 2015 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Winner and Honor Books

 Fiction Winner

Cartwheeling in ThunderstormsCartwheeling in Thunderstorms
by Katherine Rundell
Middle School   Simon   248 pp.
8/14   978-1-4424-9061-1   $16.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9063-5   $10.99

Will (short for Wilhelmina), the only daughter of William Silver, white foreman of the Two Tree Hill Farm in Zimbabwe, leads a “wildcat” life with her Shona best friend Simon, filled with good rich mud, lemons pulled from the tree with her teeth, harebrained stunts on horseback, and baby hyraxes in the barn. This idyll ends abruptly and tragically with her father’s death from malaria. The farm’s European owner, gentle Captain Browne, becomes Will’s guardian, but the captain has recently married the scheming Miss Vincy, whose ambition is to sell the farm and ship Will off to boarding school in England. This she does despite Will’s concerted opposition. Will’s arrival at school is a bumpy one — the other girls at Leewood insist she’s a “stinking savage” and a “filthy tramp” — and their continual harassment causes Will to finally run away. The protagonist’s passionate engagement with the world around her, her high moral standards (but not moralism), and her unconquerable search for joy will win readers to her side from the start, while Rundell’s finely drawn etchings of the people in Will’s sphere and rich descriptions of African colonial farm life sprawl across the page in sensual largesse. Only when Will has been reduced to almost complete destitution does Rundell allow a glimmer of hope into her life, but the ending, with its promise of relief from loneliness and despair, is that much sweeter for the wait. ANITA L. BURKAM

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Honor Books

maguire_egg and spoonstar2 Egg & Spoon
by Gregory Maguire
Middle School Candlewick 479 pp.
9/14 978-0-7636-7220-1 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7582-0 $17.99

An imprisoned man tells his story, Scheherazade-like, in letters to the tsar. He begins with Elena, a young girl in the impoverished Russian countryside who is nursing her dying mother and who has witnessed her brother and all the village men conscripted by the tsar’s soldiers, among other catastrophes. The few remaining villagers are on the brink of starvation when a train unexpectedly stops on an unused stretch of track. Thus Elena meets privileged Ekaterina, and their lives collide and intertwine, sending the story in two directions: to a ball in St. Petersburg and deep into the forest to the witch Baba Yaga. Maguire savors every inch of his elaborate narrative, introducing tropes from Russian folktales and giving his characters plenty of play, especially the hardboiled Baba Yaga, who seems to exist outside of time (and is akin to Maguire’s other witches). The plot meanders, developing everywhere at once yet always intriguing. As he slowly draws his characters and threads together, Maguire loses some narrative tension and occasionally reveals himself as author through the voice of his paternalistic intrusive narrator. However, there is so much in his rich and consistently surprising prose that young readers will likely forgive him for being a grownup and enjoy the gift of his magical story. NINA LINDSAY

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Challenger Deep jacketstar2 Challenger Deep
by Neal Shusterman; illus. by Brendan Shusterman
High School HarperTeen 318 pp.
4/15 978-0-06-113411-1 $17.99 g
e-book 978-0-06-223172-7 $9.99

This novel is a challenge to the reader from its first lines: author Shusterman takes us into the seemingly random, rambling, and surreal fantasies of fifteen-year-old Caden Bosch (yes, it makes sense to associate him with artist Hieronymus) as mental illness increasingly governs his consciousness. Fantasies about a pirate ship ruled by an abrasive one-eyed captain and his parrot, its deck swarming with feral brains (for example) commingle with Caden’s somewhat more comprehensible accounts of family and school, until his parents have him admitted to a psychiatric ward. As he responds to drugs and therapy, Caden’s fantasies become increasingly transparent, showing themselves to be imaginative, ungovernable versions of his hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Poirot, and his fellow patients. The disorientation Shusterman evokes through the first-person narration requires some patience, but it’s an apt, effective way to bring readers into nightmarish anxiety and despair — and out of it. Caden’s narrative is all the more engulfing because of the abundant wit and creativity evident in the eccentric specifics of his perceptions. Clearly written with love, the novel is moving; but it’s also funny, with dry, insightful humor. Illustrations by the author’s son Brendan, drawn during his own time in the depths of mental illness, haunt the story with scrambling, rambling lines, tremulousness, and intensity. DEIRDRE BAKER

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


The 2015 Boston Globe—Horn Book Award winners and honors were announced on May 27th, 2015. For reviews of the picture book and nonfiction winners and more, click on the tag bghb15.


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  1. Awesome list here!

    I’m just getting back into reading, you’ve given me some great ideas. Really appreciate it 🙂

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