- Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
It's the summer of 1980, and eleven-year-old Annie dreams of adventure, but she knows that reading Treasure Island aloud with her younger brother and making up fantastic tales about their late and mysterious father's exploits is as much excitement as she'll get. She's wrong: when a group of inmates escapes from the nearby prison, one forces himself into the house where Annie and her brother live with their grandmother; she's even more floored when he turns out to be her father. As he hides out in their home, Annie and her brother must come to terms with the lies they've heard all their lives and the reality of the man now in their house. Annie's narration is plaintive and plainspoken as she describes a life so dysfunctional that it's ironically improved by being taken hostage: her grandmother's depressive neglect has left the house a disheveled wreck and resulted in the children's coming under the watchful eye of social services, while her father actually works on cleaning the place up and arranging some decent meals. Annie's acute ambivalence toward her father—desperation to learn the basic information about her family that Gran refuses to share, craving for the parental relationship she's never known, and anger with him for his present action and his past abandonment—plays out with credible tension, especially as her brother, her only ally, remains implacably opposed to the man. While a few of the elements are overcontrived, the absorbing voice and short chapters make this a taut, accessible read (and older readaloud), and kids will be engrossed by Annie's dilemma.