cover image The Fortuneteller in 5b

The Fortuneteller in 5b

Jane Breskin Zalben. Henry Holt & Company, $14.95 (148pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-1537-9

Mysterious Madame Van Dam has taken up residence in the apartment above the one Alex shares with her mom. Alex can't imagine that she would have anything in common with this crystal ball-toting refugee from Rumania, but when her best friend Jenny convinces her to snoop in the Madame's trunk, Alex finds photos that reveal a painful similarity--both she and the Madame have lost someone very close to them. Lively, vivid characters and picturesque detail save this somewhat obvious, at times meandering story of deep loss and grief from sinking into sentimentality. The juxtaposition of Alex's grief (she recently lost her father to cancer) and Madame Van Dam's loss of her family to Nazi concentration camps helps young readers put the specter of death and the pain of recovery in perspective. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)