________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 11 . . . . January 23, 2009

cover Mackenzie, Lost and Found.

Deborah Kerbel.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2008.
251 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-852-2.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Kay Weisman.

** /4


"That accent, that raspy voice, those empty eyes — it was the man from the souk who had sold me the bowl. One of those black-market dealers Dad said were plaguing the Middle East! My knees suddenly felt weak. I sunk down onto the couch.

Oh, Nasir! Your father's hanging out with a criminal! I wanted to shout. But I held back, scared of saying something in front of this man. Scared of what he would do if he got angry.

What do I do now? I wondered. Should I call the police or the Antiquities Authority or maybe my father? I thought about the cell phone tucked away in my backpack — the one Dad had given me for my birthday. Did this qualify as an emergency?"

Fifteen-year-old Mackenzie Hill is reluctant to leave her comfortable Toronto home for Jerusalem, but her father has accepted a temporary professorship at Hebrew University, giving him the chance to participate in an archeological dig at Tiberias. Both are still grieving the sudden death of Mackenzie's mother, and Dad feels that the change will be good for them. In spite of her misgivings, Mackenzie adjusts smoothly — learning Hebrew, making friends at school, and developing a crush on a young Palestinian boy who works at a neighborhood store. Although warned repeatedly to stay away from Nasir by her own friends and more indirectly by her father's colleague, she pursues the friendship, resulting in her eventual kidnap by black marketers.

     Although Kerbel takes pains to assure readers that Nasir is a good teen whose involvement in the black market is unwitting, the portrait of Palestinians as "bad guys" does pervade. Nasir's father approaches him about helping to dig for treasures so that they can earn extra money to rescue family members from the West Bank and Nasir reveals the location of the Tiberias dig site where Mackenzie's father is working. Although the kidnapper and ringleader of the antiquities fencing operation is vaguely identified as European, this is a subtlety some readers may miss; he is described as a shopkeeper with "close-set eyes, a high forehead, a slightly bulbous nose and a bushy mustache in desperate need of a trim."

     More satisfying is the development of the teens' relationship. Mackenzie recounts most of the story in first person, while frequent third person chapters reveal Nasir's point of view. The teens flirt, reveal personal secrets, and take leisurely walks through scenic Jerusalem, leading readers to expect that small-scale Middle East peace might be possible. Instead, Mackenzie is rescued in a bloody battle, Nasir and his entire family disappear with their fate unknown, and the Hills pack up to return to the safety of Canada. The ending may be realistic, given the politics of contemporary Israel, but readers will be disappointed that Nasir and his family are so easily disposed of.

     Although this works as a tragic romance, those looking for a more nuanced treatment of Israeli-Palestinian relations would do better with Anne Laurel Carter's The Shepherd's Granddaughter or Deborah Ellis's nonfiction Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak. Additionally, an older title, Harriet Feder's The Mystery of the Kaifeng Scroll (Lerner 1995), features a similarly aged heroine, a kidnapped mother, and the authentication of some ancient Torah scrolls.

Recommended with reservations.

Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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