Zebra Forest

200p. Candlewick. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6041-3; ebook $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6568-5. LC 2012947251.
RedReviewStarGr 5–8—It's almost summer and 11-year-old Annie Morgan has a small list of things she hopes to accomplish during her vacation: grow tall, have an adventure, and meet her father. Sadly, the last wish is impossible given her father's death in a brutal fight many years before. Annie and her younger brother, Rew, live with their caring, but mentally unstable, grandmother in the backwoods of Sunshine. The siblings pass the time in the "Zebra Forest" of birches and oaks behind their house, weaving elaborate fantasies of their dad as a pirate or secret agent. When a prison escapee barges into their house and holds them hostage, the siblings are shocked to discover that the interloper is their presumed-dead father, Andrew Snow. Gran's fragile state renders her incapable of helping the children process this revelation. Rew lashes out against his captor, refusing to believe that this man is his dad. Annie is torn between siding with her brother and her desire to know their father. Gewirtz veers away from melodrama, deftly capturing nuances of family dynamics in spare prose. Another notable element is the thematic parallel with Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, which the children read throughout the story. Despite Zebra Forest's slow start, audiences will appreciate this novel's multilayered characters and touching message of hope and forgiveness.—Lalitha Nataraj, Escondido Public Library, CA
In this novel set during the Iran hostage crisis, eleven-year-old Annie and her brother Rew live with their grandmother near a state prison. Gran doesn't leave home much, sending Annie on errands and having her deal with the "truant lady" who checks up on the kids. One night there is a prison break, and a desperate-seeming man forces his way into the house. The kids are terrified, but Gran is unmoved: the man is her son, Andrew Snow, the children's father, whom they thought to be long dead. The fugitive bars the doors, rips out the phone, and threatens harm to anyone attempting escape. Rew, more furious than scared, hatches a plan to alert the authorities, but Annie hesitates: she has been following the hostage crisis in the news, and tells herself she's being cautious on her brother and grandmother's behalf. Also, despite herself, she's intrigued by her father, and this ambivalence is what makes Gewirtz's story so compelling. Snow is not a nice guy: his prison conviction was for manslaughter, and he's straightforward about having committed the crime. In addition, Annie and Rew's mom abandoned the family years before; Rew has a wicked temper; and Gran's care-taking leaves much to be desired. They all have redeeming qualities, though, and their commonalities -- such as their love of Treasure Island and the woods behind their house -- bring Annie, Rew, Gran, and Andrew together as they navigate an ever-shifting notion of family. elissa gershowitz

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing