Zebra Forest Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-08-18 
Review Score: 4 out of 5 star From 37 user ratings

"This is not an action-stuffed animal, but instead a thought-provoking drama that would make for good discussions with grades 5 and up. When an escaped convict flees to Annie, Rew, and Gran's house taking the family hostage, the threesome examine their lives, the definition of a criminal, and making ethical choices. What at first seems black and white to Annie and Rew's childlike view, becomes fuzzy as they get to know the convict and his history. Unsure what to do with their new knowledge, Annie and Rew must decide what is the right thing to do and in the process grow up and mature quickly.

Eleven-year-old Annie is a well-developed character as the story is told from her first person point of view. While her internal changes and struggles are clear, Rew and Gran suffer a bit more in the tale. Gran seems to be suffering from depression and while Dad and daughter discuss if she's broken and do not think so, I thought her grief from losing her husband and the trauma of her son's situation meant she needed some counseling and/or medication. She was a mess. Rew suffers from anger issues, and while Annie reminds the reader of it, he seemed to be slamming his bedroom door repetitively. The climax shows him being transformed by an incident in a way that clarifies the extreme stubbornness.

When the convict escapes from the jail by their house and takes them hostage, the three know he is a murderer. As Annie learns his story over a period of time, her view of him changes from one that is "bad" to one that has "made a mistake." She finds that her hate has turned to empathy and she isn't sure she likes it. While the circumstances surrounding the randomness of the convict happening to find their house stretches the imagination, not to mention that it contradicts Gran's attempt to erase their existence to the point a lawyer can't find them, it is necessary for the plot to move forward. While a bit weak in plot structure, the strong character development makes up for it.

The chapters are short and the book is roughly 200 pages. while I wasn't convinced that the girl wouldn't tell someone in the beginning about the convict, I was convinced later on as she learned the convict's story. The author addresses this by her worrying that the family would get shot like the hostages in Iran. The parallels between Rew and Annie's situation and the pirates in "Treasure Island" was an interesting touch in showing how the two cope with anger and neglectful adults. Annie is self-reliant and forced to be more grown-up than most children her age. She talks about how her Gran as being an excellent liar and not being so bad at it herself. She lies to the social worker because she doesn't want to be separated from her family and makes the best of her situation. More importantly, she learns the importance of facing problems, acceptance, and forgiving mistakes in others.
" said.

"Richie's Picks: ZEBRA FOREST by Adina Rishe Gewirtz, Candlewick, April 2013, 288p., ISBN: 978-0-7636-6041-3

"Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown
Like a dog without a bone
Actor on a loan
Riders on the storm"
-- The Doors (1971)

"So we had no photos, not of my father, and certainly not of my mother, who, Gran said, had run off when I was three and Rew just one.
"I had one and a half memories of my mother. I say 'a half' because whenever I tried to remember what my mother looked like, I saw a brown leather purse instead. That, and the sound of her keys clinking together -- that's what I remembered. And then there was the other memory, or maybe it was one Gran give me and I made my own. That was the night she left, when she set us down, along with our suitcases, in Gran's house. I can't see her face there, either, but I think she might have had brown hair, like mine. And I don't remember much of her voice, but I do know the words she used. 'They were always his idea, anyway,' she said, and left.
"So I didn't miss my mother much. But my father -- since I was, after all, his idea -- him, I missed. And though I didn't know what he looked like, Gran said he was something like Rew, and that made a nice picture in my mind."

As summer begins, eleven year-old Annie dreams of getting tall, of having an adventure, and of meeting her father. But that last wish is impossible because, as she's been told by Gran, her and Rew's father is dead, killed in a fight with an angry man. Nevertheless, Annie repeatedly sets her father as the starring character in the many heroic adventure stories Annie dreams up and tells her brother Rew (who is named after their father Andrew) when the two of them are out playing in the "zebra" forest behind Gran's isolated house.

And then, late one evening, an escaped convict from the nearby state prison abruptly forces his way into Gran's isolated house and takes Annie hostage. The convict has red hair like Rew. When Gran hears the disturbance and comes downstairs, she confirms the impossible -- the escaped convict is their father, Andrew Snow. She'd lied to Annie about what had really taken place. Andrew Snow is alive.

ZEBRA FOREST is the story of the ensuing weeks as Annie, in large part, ignores her little brother's tense anger, her grandmother's despair, and the fact that Andrew Snow is an escaped murderer, so that she can come to know her father, the man. The tale is set in 1980 against the daily news of the Americans being held hostage in Iran, and against the classic story Treasure Island, which all four characters love.

"'Electricity builds up in the air,' he said...'It's got to go somewhere.'"

I love how ZEBRA FOREST closely examines the behavior of these three generations as the drama and electricity build up in the house, seeking release. It makes for one of those compelling one-day, gulp-it-down stories.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks

" said.

" I liked the book a lot. There were a couple problems that I troubled with. It was a very slow moving book and withheld a lot of the information about the father and grandmother that you wanted to know and so it got stale because the author was not dropping little bits of information. " said.

" Ok, interesting. It was acceptable. Another book I can add to my read list, but I don’t think I’ll read it again.So basically Annie was ok, Andrew was ok, Rew was so spoiled he threw silent tantrums, Gran was way too sensitive.The good point in this story was that the author was able to make it interesting even though there was such limited characters and settings.I wasn’t totally impressed with this one, but I’m glad I read it once. " said.

" I thoroughly enjoyed this book about a bright brother and sister whose self-invented mythology about their unknown parents is suddenly replaced with a reality almost as fantastic. I had the privlege of hearing the author speak about her inspiration for the book, including the importance of family stories and family history to personal identity. Very glad I read this one! " said.

" Family secrets, lies, complex family relationships...Zebra Forest is an all encompassing book for young adults. This suspenseful story keeps readers intrigued as we learn about the tangled web woven throughout our families and our family relationships. This is a story about self-reflection, the importance of taking responsibility for one's actions and choices, forgiveness, and unconditional love. " said.

" This book was unlike any I've read for this audience. Two children live with their Gran--who is increasingly unable to care for them. When a riot at a local prison unleashes some of the inmates, they are held hostage and deep family truths are revealed. An interesting story. " said.

"I stumbled upon this one accidentally because my daughter checked it out from the public library, then after a few pages was too disturbed by it to continue reading. So then I just had to read it to see what "Zebra Forest" was all about, and I'm glad I did. This is the coming of age story of 11-year-old Annie and her brother Rew growing up under the care of their depressed grandmother, Gran, a professional liar. The past they shared with their parents is a mystery to them until one summer day when all of that changes. This book is about relationships, families, parents and grandparents who are far from perfect, and the healing power of stories. In it, Gewirtz raises the question of when, if ever, is the ugly truth preferable to the protective lie in her amazing debut novel. Read it. You will be glad you did. Now if I could only convince my kid to do the same, but then I often wonder how some of these books get classified as "youth" or "YA" tales, because "The Zebra Forest" is a book for everyone. " said.

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