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Drita, My Homegirl
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Jenny Lombard lives in New York City.

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Gr 3-5-In alternating chapters, two fourth graders tell about the development of their unlikely friendship. Drita is a refugee from Kosova who, along with her family, is finally joining her father in New York City. In a cramped apartment and without connections or language skills, her mother sinks into a serious depression, while the girl struggles to find her place in school. Maxie, a precocious African-American child who lives with her supportive grandmother and her widowed father, struggles, too; she's in constant trouble in school for her comedic efforts since her mother died. When she sees a news report on Kosova, she decides to do a project on Albanian refugees, focusing on Drita. The girls find common ground, and when Maxie's grandmother, a retired nurse, sweeps in to rescue Drita's mother, the families forge a bond as well. Maxie's attempts to help Drita understand American ways are touching, and Drita's understanding of her friend's loss is a testament to the emotional intelligence of children. Drita's story resonates with the bravery of an individual determined to become part of her new country while retaining the love of her homeland. Maxie has the cocky voice of a girl who is trying too hard to disguise her pain. More a tale of the power of love than of refugees, this first novel is imbued with the language and customs of Kosova as well as the efforts of a family attempting to regain balance. Read it aloud to groups and let the conversations begin.-Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Lombard's debut novel unfolds through the first-person narratives of two fourth-grade classmates with very different backgrounds. Drita has just arrived in New York City from a devastated Kosovo and is worried about her depressed mother, who spends days alone in her room. She misses her best friend from home and longs to make a new friend. But Drita knows little English, and the girls at school make no effort to get to know her-including outspoken, impulsive Maxie, an African-American whose brassy demeanor cloaks a deep sadness. Maxie keeps secret the fact that her mother died three years earlier in a car accident, a loss from which she is still reeling. In a poignant encounter, Maxie's wise grandmother, acknowledging that her granddaughter's acting-out is related to her grief, advises the girl, "You got to start to let her go" and to "Let someone in." Maxie reaches out to Drita, and the two grow closer as Maxie researches Kosovo for her school project. Maxie's slang-riddled voice comes across credibly, yet passages representing Drita's thoughts sometimes seem stiff or awkward (e.g., "When Ramazan [a holy time for Albanians] is over, this is the best time for me because I always get too many presents"; "Her breath is hard like someone who is running too much"). Yet the pair's discovery of their common ground makes for a warm, often moving story. Readers will learn as much about Kosovo as about the remedy to be found in friendship. Ages 8-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Touching....This first novel is imbued with the language and customs of Kosova as well as the efforts of a family attempting to regain balance. Read it aloud to groups and let the conversations begin."--School Library Journal, starred review

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