Zebra Forest was not what I expected—it was much better. I was a little wary about mature content for younger readers, and even warier since I'm a bit pathetic and easily frightened by scary, suspense-driven, or horror novels. But rest assured, this book packs a punch in plot without content that would be inappropriate for a YA audience. It was a fabulous read and I enjoyed it very much!
Summary: When eleven-year-old Annie first started lying to her social worker, she had been taught by an expert: Gran. “If you’re going to do something, make sure you do it with excellence,” Gran would say. That was when Gran was feeling talkative, and not brooding for days in her room — like she did after telling Annie and her little brother, Rew, the one thing they know about their father: that he was killed in a fight with an angry man who was sent away. Annie tells stories, too, as she and Rew laze under the birches and oaks of Zebra Forest — stories about their father the pirate, or pilot, or secret agent.
But then something shocking happens to unravel all their stories: a rattling at the back door, an escapee from the prison holding them hostage in their own home, four lives that will never be the same. Driven by suspense and psychological intrigue, Zebra Forest deftly portrays an unfolding standoff of truth against family secrets — and offers an affecting look at two resourceful, imaginative kids as they react and adapt to the hand they’ve been dealt.
Although this book is aimed at readers ages 9-12, I suggest the reader be at least grade five and ready to handle the mature subject matter. That being said, it is a tame story. We read the story through the p.o.v. of a child. Other characters withhold information that a child should not receive (ie. no one actually talks about grandma's depression and the intruder does not give any graphic detail about his crime). Basically, it doesn't read like the hostage story that the publisher copy makes it sound like. It hooks the reader, but the story is actually an age-appropriate narrative that parents and educators can feel comfortable about.
I have to say I enjoyed the plot twist. It allows for some real character development in the story as the kids grow as a result of the situation at hand. The novel takes a hard look at the importance of family and forgiveness, but also moral choices and having to live with the consequences of one's actions. All "tough stuff" subjects that make for great exploration of character!
This is a fantastic read for young teens who like a bit of mystery, suspense, and drama. Adina Rishe Gewirtz's debut novel is beautifully written, memorable, fast-paced read and it is unlike anything I've read in a while. Definitely worth it to pick up a copy!