Close to the Wind

304p. Scholastic/David Fickling. Jun. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545816625; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545822985.
Gr 4–7—This story, told in three parts, begins with a boy and an old man: Malik and Papa. Malik, who is nine, doesn't know his estranged grandfather very well, but they are bound together ever since soldiers came in the night to take Malik's mother away. Papa assures his grandson that his mother will be waiting for them at the port, the place where the duo is heading. Papa, who once owned factories, and Malik, who lived in a nice house, are now scavenging for food and seeking hiding spots in abandoned homes as they bide their time waiting for a ship called the Samaritan to take them away. While hiding out, they cross paths with two of Papa's former business acquaintances, and like Malik, readers are never sure if they should be trusted. They make a deal with Papa that could mean the difference between life and death, for "nothing is ever assured in life unless you can pay for it." All the while, a thread of hope keeps the situation from turning desperate during these desperate times, but questions linger: Will Malik reunite with his mother? Will they find the money to buy tickets for the ship? The setting and time period are not defined, as Walter attempts to convey a sense of the timelessness of war and upheaval.
VERDICT Many readers may find the lack of historical context and place a distraction; those who can move past it will find richly developed and empathetic characters.

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