cover image Bandit's Moon

Bandit's Moon

Sid Fleischman. Greenwillow Books, $17.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15830-9

Seasoned author Fleischman (The 13th Floor) returns with a spirited novel set against the California Gold Rush. Plucking a character out of history--Joaquin Murieta, an infamous 1850s Mexican outlaw--he expertly crafts a fictionalized tale that takes a clear-eyed look at bigotry and racism, while steering away from the twin pitfalls of pedantry and sermonizing. Told from the point of view of Annyrose Smith, an orphan in search of her brother Lank, the story starts with a bang (she's swept off with the banditos) and never lets up its fierce pace. All the trademarks of one of Fleischman's rollicking yarns are here, from treachery aplenty and multiple cases of mistaken identity, to colorful rascals--all delivered with a double helping of humor (as when Annyrose attempts to teach the outlaw to read and he remarks, ""They tell me my name starts with a J. Yes, I have seen that shape on wanted posters""). Fueled by brisk dialogue and lively descriptions (""my heart sounded like woodpeckers in my ears""), the story moves as swiftly as a whitewater stream, carrying readers along for an exhilarating ride. It's not all thundering hooves and gunfire, however. Fleischman also tucks in weightier issues, as Annyrose ruminates on such concepts as revenge, villainy and friendship while riding with the outlaw--who, as it turns out, is hardly the bloodthirsty figure he's been painted to be. Food for thought packaged inside a most enticing adventure. Illustrations not seen by PW. Ages 8-up. (Sept.)