cover image Quaking


Kathryn Erskine, . . Philomel, $16.99 (236pp) ISBN 978-0-399-24774-3

Erskine's debut juggles a number of hefty subjects and themes (religious faith, American patriotism, anti- and pro-war attitudes, bad parenting), but with mixed results. Fourteen-year-old Matilda (“Matt”) believes that “life is safer alone.” She has been unwillingly shuffled around distant family members' homes after being taken away from her abusive father, and is eventually sent to live with a Quaker couple, Jessica and Sam, and their disabled adopted son, Rory. Adjusting to her new life is tough, and sarcastic Matt doesn't make it any easier for her new, overprotective guardians. She's generally belligerent, dismissive of Rory and frequently antagonizes her pro-war World Civics teacher, whom she dubs Mr. Warhead (who “is so patriotic he is practically drooling red, white, and blue”). Amidst this “disaffected youth attempting to adjust to her new school and family” plotline, Erskine adds scenes involving Matt's introduction to Quakerism, a vicious school bully and the town's division over the war in the Middle East, but she doesn't always dig deep enough to flush out the questions that are raised. What happened to Matt's birth parents? Would a blatantly prowar teacher realistically be allowed to proselytize to his students in a public school setting? What does Matt really think about Quaker values? While thought-provoking at times, this story tries to cover a great deal of ground and might have fared better if the author focused on one or two main issues in greater depth. Ages 11-up. (June)