Review: Zebra Forest

Zebra Forest
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Annie and Rew live with their increasingly checked-out Gran and the stories they make up about the life and career of their ‘dead’ father. Sometimes they go to school and sometimes they don’t, but they have an understanding with their social worker. Their lives are enriched by telling jokes together, the occasional pancake feast, Treasure Island, and the times they spend playing and seeking calm in the black-and-white Zebra Forest.

When there is a huge breakout from the local jail, Annie, Rew, and Gran become prisoners in their own home. Gewirtz weaves in the details of the 1980 Iran hostage crisis that would make sense to 11 year-old Annie, and she feels a kinship with those imprisoned Americans. What do hostages do all day? Pace their cells? Is it okay to talk with your keeper? For that matter, what do people do with their time in the jail?

When the man keeping them hostage cleans the windows, Annie learns that the forest isn’t really black-and-white. It’s brown and tan and green and other subtleties. And, in their captivity, she begins to learn that their lives are not black-and-white either. There is truth and there are lies and there is a long continuum in between; can people be guilty of something awful but not be 100% awful themselves?

An interesting and unusual read. It’s been catalogued as juvenile. Should it be? There’s fear and claustrophobia and reminiscences of very bad things, but nothing graphic. But the pacing and the interest level feel very adult.

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