The prolific Gordon Korman (War Stories) helps young people develop ideas about tolerance while still providing his well-known lighthearted atmosphere in this earnest middle-grade novel, Linked.
When swastikas show up in a largely racially homogeneous middle school in Chokecherry, Colo., everyone is mystified. Soon after the swastikas begin appearing, Link, who is known for his practical jokes, learns that his maternal grandmother was a Jewish baby left in a WWII French orphanage and adopted by a Christian family. Though she barely identifies as Jewish, Link decides to study for his bar mitzvah. Once Link finds a rabbi and begins to learn the necessary prayers, he receives help from an unlikely source: new student Dana. She is the Jewish daughter of paleontologists working to uncover dinosaur remains and doesn't seem to like Link at all. Before long, the students are also dealing with an obnoxious YouTube star who arrives to publicize and exploit the situation.
Interwoven with the larger story is one about students creating a symbolic paper chain of six million links, which represents Holocaust victims (the author's note credits the idea to the eighth-graders of Whitwell, Tenn., who did this project with paper clips in 1998). The students themselves, including Link, Dana and Michael, a Dominican American boy who becomes the chain project's leader, narrate the story in alternating first-person chapters, giving readers an inside account of each child's emotional experience. Korman writes with skill about antisemitism, tolerance education and developing and growing relationships. Although there are a few plot twists that may stretch readers' credulity, Linked is an absorbing novel of ideas appropriate for its tween audience. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer