“Zebra Forest” follows eleven-year-old Annie and her younger brother, Rew, as they make it through a scorchingly hot summer in a sleepy town. Their summer vacation becomes anything but sleepy as nearly fifty felons in a nearby prison escape, and one of them decides to hideout in Annie and Rew’s home. A hostage situation ensues that lasts for over a month and is filled with anxiety, screaming fights, and family drama.
Gewirtz has found that sweet spot that blends tension-filled action and a strong literary voice. Gewirtz’s protagonist Annie may not be the most book smart girl in the world, but she seems to be wise beyond her years. Rather than let herself panic after being held hostage, she takes the forced seclusion as a chance to learn more about her family and why her parents left her and Rew to be raised by their grandmother. You get invested in Annie’s moments of thought, wanting to find out more about her past just as badly as she does. Becoming pensively engaged with Annie makes the action-filled moments that much more surprising and unexpected, getting your heart racing as Rew especially tries to make trouble for their criminal houseguest.
What’s great about said criminal houseguest, Andrew Snow, is he’s not such a bad guy. Sure, he’s taken Annie, Rew, and their grandmother hostage, but he also cooks for the family, tells them stories, and cleans up the house that has been overrun by Annie’s grandma’s hoarder ways. I found myself getting Stockholm syndrome and hoping that Andrew Snow would somehow be excused from his crimes and live happily ever after with Annie and her family. This psychological back and forth of knowing Snow has done bad things in the past, but finding myself relating to him at certain moments, speaks to Gewirtz’s ability to make complex and fascinating characters.
Gewirtz also knows how to edit herself. Rather than painstakingly take us through each day Annie and her family are held in captivity, she only shows us the juicy moments. This eliminates monotonous days that all resemble one another, and makes each moment in Annie’s story stand out for its uniqueness and development of the overall story. This also helps the reader cruise through the book, as the action is so perfectly placed that you can’t wait to find out how this whole situation pans out.
In the end, Annie learns some important lessons about herself and her family that lead to the endearing and sweet moments of this hostage situation. Gewirtz’s captivating storytelling took my attention hostage (yep, I said it), and I can’t wait for her next book.
A great blend of tension-filled action and a literary voice.
Pacing that keeps you invested in the story until the very end.