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Moving and perceptive: Hankies are a must.

A sixth grader struggles with feelings and survival strategies after his single mom disappears.

Hank is more or less used to being left to cope with caring for himself and his 3-year-old sister, Boo, for short stretches—but when their mother vanishes for a week, the power goes off, and the landlord serves an eviction notice, it’s crisis time. What’s the right thing to do? Along with sensitively exploring Hank’s rough emotional landscape as his mother’s whereabouts remain unknown, Choldenko offers a moving portrayal of the powerful bonds that connect him, an unwillingly parentified child, and the younger sibling who means everything to him. Throwing themselves on the mercies of strangers with emotional vulnerabilities of their own earns at least temporary respite but also leads to brushes with the foster care system, the threat of being separated, and, most wrenchingly, the necessity of making yet another consequential choice; finally, his sorely missed mom abruptly reappears. Meanwhile, not only does a neighbor’s extended Latine clan give the two white children their first glimpses of life in a bustling household, but Hank gets a warmer welcome than he was expecting from the diverse classmates at his new middle school. These experiences, plus the fact that Hank and Boo are both strongly appealing characters in their own different ways, will give readers cause for intense relief when the author throws the pair a lifeline at the end.

Moving and perceptive: Hankies are a must. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9781524718923

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2024

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From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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