Title: Zebra Forest
Author: Adina Rishe Gewirtz
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 208
Wow, this book was a lot darker than I expected it to be; talk about a super-dysfunctional family. Annie and her brother Rew live with their mentally ill grandma, and they are used to having to largely look after themselves. Then their dad (who the grandmother told them was dead) escapes from prison and holds them hostage in their own home. It turns out the dad is not only alive, he’s spent years in the slammer for killing someone. Tension begins to grow between Rew and Annie when Annie begins to bond with her dad. As the days go by, Annie finds out some major secrets about her family and her dad’s relationship with her absent mother.
I enjoyed this book. It was well-written, suspenseful, and it had a strong sense of place. Without being wordy, the writer really made me feel like I was there in that situation. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the whole Stockholm Syndrome dynamic. When the dad breaks into the house he manhandles the kids and threatens to kill them, and the book spends a lot of time at length justifying his actions and how he ‘wasn’t actually going to hurt anybody.’
It was really frustrating because his initial treatment of his kids was violent and coercive and it felt like the book tried to paint Rew in a bad light for not starting to trust him like Annie did. I thought Rew was the only one with any sense and Annie seemed more foolish than relatable. The ending was also a little too simplistic when you consider how bad the dynamic with the grandmother really was.
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