Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: James Heneghan (1930-) Biography - Personal to Rick Jacobson Biography - Personal » Gaye Hiçyilmaz (1947-) Biography - Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Adaptations

Gaye Hiçyilmaz (1947-) - Sidelights

review family smiling strangers

Although born in England, author Gaye Hiçyilmaz spent several years living in Turkey with her Turkish husband, and her personal understanding of the culture and politics of Eastern Europe is woven throughout her highly praised novels for middle-grade and teen readers. Her first novel, Against the Storm, is characteristic of Hiçyilmaz's work: set in Turkey, where young Mehmet's family leaves their drought-stricken rural village and moves to a shanty town in the capital city of Ankara, hoping to find a better life, the book was praised by a Publishers Weekly reviewer who praised the author for presenting "a vivid and disturbing picture of poverty." Other novels by Hiçyilmaz include Smiling for Strangers, The Frozen Waterfall, and Girl in Red.


Like the protagonists in many of Hiçyilmaz's books, Selda, the leading character in The Frozen Waterfall, is a twelve-year-old Turkish girl who joins her father and brothers in Switzerland, where the family has moved to avoid racial tensions. The novel explores the new difficulties now facing Selda in a country where the people, customs, schools, and language are all unknown to her. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "hearts will go out to the heroine as she struggles to find a niche for herself," while Hazel Rochman noted in her Booklist review of The Frozen Waterfall that "the plot is dramatic; and the writing is sharp and lyrical."


Taking place in 1996, Smiling for Strangers is set in war-torn Bosnia and follows the travails of fourteen-year-old Nina Topic, a middle-class teen who flees from the violence that engulfed her family's home in Sarajevo and now spreads to the small town she lives in. Forced to flee once more, Nina hopes that, with the help of some letters and a photograph, she can find refuge with a friend of her mother's, a woman believed to be living somewhere in Sussex, England. School Library Journal contributor Laura Scott praised Hiçyilmaz for her "beautiful writing and riveting characterizations," although she noted that many readers would require more background on the causes of Bosnian violence. "Nina emerges as psychologically complex, a tough and scarred heroine who may awaken readers to the price of war," maintained a Publishers Weekly critic, while in Horn Book a contributor wrote that in Smiling for Strangers "Hiçyilmaz reminds us repeatedly, without a trace of sentimentality, how much that is good and innocent is buried by war."

Considered a departure from her previous novels, In Flame focuses on a British teen whose move across England causes her family to suffer emotional upheaval. Fourteen-year-old Helen moves with her family to the coastal town of Pembroke after the death of her brother, Tom. Her mother wants to make a new start, but the family soon discovers that leaving the past behind is not as simple as moving one's home. Helen's younger brother continues to suffer emotional stress following the loss of his brother, and an encounter with a man named Christian leads to a gradual unveiling of disturbing secrets about the late Tom. A London Guardian reviewer found In Flame an "immensely satisfying" read, adding that Hiçyilmaz's "writing is delicate and pointed, the plotting exciting and the characters psychologically convincing."

Girl in Red also focuses on British teens, in this case Frankie, who lives with his single mother in a low-income housing project in Kent, and Emilia, the daughter of Rumanian immigrants. While the overweight, unathletic Frankie remains on the outside of most school social events, he becomes inspired with greater self-confidence after getting to know Emilia, a new student who enters school knowing very little English. His budding romance with Emilia soon forces Frankie into an open battle with his mother when the older woman rallies the neighborhood to reject Emilia's gypsy family and drive them from the area by inciting a race riot. Praising Hiçyilmaz for her sensitive portrayal of a young man coming of age, Guardian contributor Julia Eccleshare wrote that Frankie "observes and learns, moved by compassion . . . that leads him to reject the prejudice" he was raised with and make independent decisions based on his own sense of what is right. Emilia's story is continued in Pictures from the Fire, which finds the teen's family living at a refugee hostel. Emilia herself is confined to her room because of the belief that her shameful actions caused the riot that forced them from their Kent home. Now, through pictures, she attempts to sort out the events of her short life—from the family's flight from Bucharest hidden in a truck to her happiness at school, to the riot that forced them to leave Kent—and make the decisions that will shape her life as an independent young woman.

In her 2004 novel Gaye Hiçyilmaz continues the story begun in Girl in Red, and finds Emilia attempting to make sense of her tragic life—and her captivity—through an illustrated journal.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 15, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of Against the Storm, p. 1522; October 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of The Frozen Waterfall, p. 318; April 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Smiling for Strangers, p. 1451; July, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Smiling for Strangers, p. 2025.

Book Report, November-December, 1992, Gayle Berge, review of Against the Storm, p. 42; March-April, 1995, Susan Martin, review of The Frozen Waterfall, p. 37.

Guardian (London, England), June 20, 2000, Julia Eccleshare, review of Girl in Red; April 4, 2002, review of In Flame.

Horn Book, May-June, 1992, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Against the Storm, p. 343; May, 2000, review of Smiling for Strangers, p. 314.

Kliatt, September, 2004, Pat Dole, review of Girl in Red, p. 60.

Publishers Weekly, May 11, 1992, review of Against the Storm, p. 73; August 1, 1994, review of The Frozen Waterfall, p. 80; May 8, 2000, review of Smiling for Strangers, p. 222.

School Library Journal, May, 1992, Ellen D. Warwick, review of Against the Storm, p. 130; October, 1994, Ann W. Moore, review of The Frozen Waterfall, p. 142; June, 2000, Laura Scott, review of Smiling for Strangers, p. 146.

Times (London, England), March 10, 1990.*

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