From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up-Legend has it that in 1284 the city of Hameln (or Hamelin) suffered a plague of rats of which they tried to rid themselves by hiring a piper to lead the vermin away. When the residents reneged on their payment to him, he led their children away, as well. This tale has proved fertile ground for a lot of literature, from the 19th-century poem by Robert Browning to a 20th-century novel by Gloria Skurzynski. Now Napoli adds Breath-and breadth-to the canon. She includes the potent elements of ergot poisoning and suspected witchcraft in her plot, which is narrated by 12-year-old Salz-a boy whose frequent, serious illnesses render him almost useless on his family's farm. (An afterword explains that he has cystic fibrosis.) The author vividly describes the frightening conditions facing the townspeople and their increasingly desperate attempts to understand and overcome the torrential rains; the rat infestation; the diseases afflicting their livestock; and the physical, mental, and sexual maladies that beset them. Salz is an intelligent observer who is tried for witchcraft when he doesn't succumb to the same illnesses as the rest of the population. (He doesn't drink the beer made from the infected grain.) Readers unfamiliar with the psychotropic effects of ergot poisoning may be as mystified as these medieval citizens by the events presented here. Salz's illness is likely to be equally puzzling until it is explained in the postscript. The confusion and speculation this ignorance might produce are realistically portrayed, but it's possible that foreknowledge would provide a richer reading experience for teens.Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 8-12. It is the late thirteenth century, and Hameln town and its surroundings are overwhelmed by a terrible, incurable illness. Everywhere animals are sick and dying; humans may be next. What can be causing the scourge? Perhaps it's the result of the recent infestation of rats. No one knows for sure, but Salz hopes the piper he meets has the answers. Napoli has written a grotesquely powerful reimagining of the familiar German legend (and Robert Browning poem) about the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Seen through the eyes of a boy who himself suffers a mysterious illness, the medieval setting is a world of ignorance, superstition, and cruelty, which owes more to Pieter Bruegel the Elder (one of his paintings is used on the jacket) than to Browning. Relentlessly downbeat and dense with ghastly details and vivid depictions of the fear and despair visited on the illness' victims, this is definitely not for the faint of heart. History buffs, however, and Napoli fans will find it inarguably artful in its unsparing vision of a pre-Enlightenment Europe. Michael CartCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved