________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 37 . . . . June 2, 2017


Mort Ziff is Not Dead.

Cary Fagan.
Toronto, ON: Puffin, 2017.
169 pp., hardcover & epub, $18.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-14-319847-1 (hc.), ISBN 978-0-14-319849-9 (epub).

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Todd Kyle.

**** /4



The Centipedes played for an hour. I had to admit the music was catchy, even if the words were pretty lame. But I kept thinking about Mort Ziff, and I was sure that Amy was thinking about him too. At last the lead singer shouted, "Good night, Miami Beach!" and they rushed off the stage. We joined the crush leaving and had to wait for a free elevator to take us back to our room.

Larry turned on the television. I watched for a while and then went into the bedroom to look out the open window at the dark beach and the ocean. As I felt the soft air on my skin I wondered where Mort Ziff was.

A noise made me turn and I saw my Mom coming up beside me. "It's pretty nice here, Norman."


"I just wanted to say that I know why you put a spider down that girl's back—Amy Horvath."

"You do?"

"It's because you have a crush on her."

"Ah, Mom—"

"I know it can be scary to talk to a girl you like. But really, Norman, it's easy. Just go up and say hi. I bet the two of you would really get along. Now, you better get ready for bed. We've got another day to look forward to tomorrow."

She kissed me on the cheek and went out again. I wanted to say something to her, but what? That I was secret friends with Amy and that if my brothers knew they would kill me? I went to put on my pajamas instead.

In the winter of 1965, Norman Fishbein, 11, wins a thousand dollars in a shopping mall contest and decides to spend the money to take his family on vacation to Miami Beach. Staying at the Royal Palm Hotel, he and his older brothers strike up a sneering rivalry with the Horvath sisters from New Jersey, with Norman and Amy Horvath hiding their friendship from their respective older siblings. They are both enchanted by aging comedian Mort Ziff who is headlining the hotel's dining room, but when Ziff is ousted from his gig by the Beatles-aping Centipedes, Norman and Amy convince the hotel's eccentric owner to put him in the hotel coffee shop instead, and they engineer a truce between the Fishbein and Horvath kids so that they can work together to make Ziff's gig a success.

      A quirky, understated, and dryly comedic story, this easy to read book spins a tale that in the hands of a lesser storyteller would seem thin, baffling, and improbable. Instead, Fagan manages to make gold, turning an old fashioned vacation adventure into something more subtle, even graceful. The story, itself, is straightforward, told with an almost blunt directness, but with moments of oblique humour and occasional fleeting tenderness that make it special. The characters, too, are presented almost matter of factly, occasionally with little dimension, as in the sibling and boy girl rivalries. But it is Ziff, himself—stoic, wry, just short of contemptuous—that makes this book worthwhile.

      Among the most memorable moments are the classic style jokes in Ziff's performance scenes, the hilarious Beatles send up in the self-absorbed Centipedes, and the boys' horror when their mother dons a swimsuit (apparently, they are not as ready as their parents for the swinging 60s!). The book ends on a tiny wisp of a serious note: on their taxi ride to the Miami airport, their black cabbie tells them how people like him—even Harry Belafonte—aren't allowed in hotels like the Royal Palm, just like Jews were once banned. Nothing self serious about it, but Norman is just smart and sensitive enough for this comment to stick with him.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Past President of the Ontario Library Association.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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