A Review of The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

Beautifully written, I’m sure some people love this book much more than I do. (Hence the fact that it’s short-listed for the Carnegie). In my opinion, this “middle-grade” book was written to win awards, not necessarily for children. The poetic language is too lofty for children to read to themselves, and the themes are too dark for read-aloud stories.

Two gypsy boys and their baby sister happen upon an abandoned zoo during WWII, and that is really the extent of the plot. Other than that, it’s just a conglomeration of backstories- the backstories of the animals, the boys, and the war. It simply seemed like there were a lot of short stories this author wanted to write so she smooshed them all up into this one plot, which isn’t much of a plot.

When viewed as a collection of short stories, I like the book a lot more. I love the individual voices of the animals- each one is written so perfectly. I can hear the snooty whine of the chamois and the sandy smoothness of the lioness. The stories are very reminiscent of Aesop. The war is sad. Destruction is sad. The boys are gypsies- often forgotten among Hitler’s victims. There is hope, which is often missing in war stories, and the ending is sad and beautiful and astonishing all at once.

I enjoyed this book and it will stick with me. I see myself continuing to mull it over in the future. But I probably won’t read it again and I can’t see myself recommending it. Especially not to children.

3 out of 5 stars from me!


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