cover image SLAP YOUR SIDES


M. E. Kerr, . . HarperCollins, $15.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-06-029481-6

Even without the influence of recent events, Kerr's (What Became of Her) hard-hitting WWII novel would sweep readers up in its urgency. Jubal Shoemaker, the 13-year-old youngest son of a Pennsylvania Quaker family, admires his oldest brother, Bud, for adhering to his antiwar convictions and registering as a conscientious objector despite ever-increasing hostility from neighbors in Jubal's small town, from residents near the facilities where Bud is sent to work, and even from some relatives. Aunt Lizzie, for example, married to a Jewish artist and living in Greenwich Village, sends Bud terse notes like, "Kiss the Jews of Greece good-bye!" Kids at Jubal's Quaker school wonder about the limits of pacifism: what if they had the opportunity to take the life of Hitler, Mussolini or Tojo? Would it really be wrong to register as a noncombatant serviceman and be a medic? As the war escalates, conflicting opinions tug Jubal's family in different directions. Even as Jubal steels himself to follow Bud's path, he develops a romantic interest in a girl who, after seeing her twin brothers off to war, has soaped the words "Your son is a slacker" on the Shoemakers' store. Kerr does not shy away from difficult questions, nor does she resolve them for readers. Instead, she pulls the rug out from under Jubal in a shocking climax, and the abruptness of the denouement intensifies its impact. This morally challenging novel is as memorable as any of Kerr's work. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)