cover image Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising

Karen Hesse. Henry Holt & Company, $17.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-3108-9

After a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant not far from their small New England sheep farm, 13-year-old Nyle Sumner and her grandmother slowly discover they have been spared from direct radiation. Gran decides to take in two evacuees, 15-year-old Ezra Trent and his mother, both of whom are severely ill. Nyle, obliged to monitor her surroundings with a radiation detector, wishes there were also some way to measure the Trents' ability to cause her pain: she hasn't entirely recovered from the deaths of her mother and grandfather years earlier, nor from her father's abandonment, and she must overcome her terror of growing attached to the refugees. As if to counteract the potential for sensationalism or dystopic fantasy, Hesse ( Letters from Rifka ) grounds her story with keen observations of the natural world--e.g., Nyle describes training a sheep dog, working in the pasture, farm work (``I like spring . . . when the grass greens up and the lambs come''). She also invests her characters with a certain formality. Nyle and Gran both demonstrate an archetypal New England self-containment and self-sufficiency; Mrs. Trent, raised in Israel and therefore no Yankee, is equally measured and reserved; Ezra, too, rarely voices his feelings. The author's understated approach heightens the emotional impact of her searching and memorable tale. Ages 11-13. (June)