In an extraordinary debut novel, an escaped fugitive upends everything two siblings think they know about their family, their past, and themselves.
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.
From Zebra Forest: We called it the Zebra Forest because it looked like a zebra. Its trees were a mix of white birch and chocolate oak, and if you stood a little ways from it, like at our house looking across the back field that was our yard, you saw stripes, black and white, that went up into green. Gran never went out there except near dusk, when the shadows gathered. She didn't like to be out in full sunlight usually, and told me once she didn't like the lines the trees made. Gran was always saying stuff like that. Perfectly beautiful things - like a clean blue sky over the Zebra - made tears come to her eyes, and if I tried to get her to come outside with me, she'd duck her head and hurry upstairs to bed. But then it would be storming, lightning sizzling the tops of the trees, and she'd run round the house, cheerful, making us hot cocoa and frying up pancakes and warming us with old quilts. We had few rules in our house, but keeping out of the Zebra Forest in a storm was one of them.
Mrs. Roberts had taught sixth-grade English in my school for about eight hundred years. She was famous for cramming educational experiences into every spare minute. So on the last day of school, while the other classes had parties or played out on the field, Mrs. Roberts's English class was busy sweating the final hours away on a "surprise" end-of-year essay: "Three Wishes I'd Like to Fulfill over Summer Vacation."
Another thing about Mrs. Roberts. Not only was her end-of-school essay notorious, but she never even changed the topic. So though it was supposed to be a surprise assignment for the last day of school, really every sixth grader with a normal IQ knew the question beforehand. And most had written the essay out and memorized it, because the rule in Mrs. Roberts's class was that when you were done, you could leave.
I had plenty of wishes for the summer after sixth grade, none of which I planned to share with Mrs. Roberts. So I wrote a fake essay ...
Zebra Forest is not a page-turner, the reader is meant to savor it slowly. With economical and precise strokes Gerwitz invokes the breadth of the lives of her characters, which extend far into the past and even into the future. I sat with each and every page of the novel, and absorbed every word.
(Reviewed by Tamara Smith).
Full Review (813 words).
In Zebra Forest, Annie and Rew love the book Treasure Island. Rich with symbols, the story allows the kids to create their own adventures in the woods behind their home.
Writer and critic Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote of Robert Louis Stevenson in his 1902 publication Twelve Types: A Collection of Mini-Biographies:
"... he had to make one story as rich as a ruby sunset, another as grey as a hoary monolith: for the story was the soul, or rather the meaning, of the bodily vision. It is quite inappropriate to judge 'The Teller of Tales' (as the Samoans called him) by the particular novels he wrote These novels were only the two or three of his soul's adventures that he happened to tell. But he died with a thousand stories in his ...
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