The third book in the Finding Serendipity series finds Tuesday McGillycuddy back in the fictional world of Vivienne Small, but this time Tuesday’s adversary is a jealous character of her mother’s own imagination.
Tuesday and her mother, Sarah (aka Serendipity Smith, the world-famous author of the Vivienne Small series), are struggling with depression, brought on by the death a year earlier of Denis McGillycuddy, husband of Sarah and father of Tuesday. Within the world of Vivienne Small, Serendipity’s depression has both caused an earthquake and continual winter and unleashed Loddon—a character imagined by the child Serendipity. Loddon, jealous of Vivienne, captures her and forces her to summon Serendipity, but it is Tuesday who arrives by mistake. What follows is both an adventure story as Tuesday fights for her life (with Baxterr, the winged dog, and Tuesday’s godmother, Colette Baden-Baden, searching for her) and a story of healing as Serendipity faces fears begotten in a lonely childhood. Writing duo Banks (adult authors Heather Rose and Danielle Wood) weaves these narratives together with admirable skill and compassion, bringing a sophistication to this story of the writing life, including wonderful writing metaphors, such as “Other [staircases] stopped…short…as if you were simply meant to jump.” While the themes of depression and emotional healing may pass over some readers, others will doubtless feel seen and validated. Lewis’ spot illustrations show the human characters as white.
Corinne La Mer has settled back into island life after her fight with the jumbie Severine (The Jumbies, 2015), but no sooner does normalcy arrive than it leaves again when an earthquake rocks the island and her friend Laurent goes missing.
Other children start to disappear, and Corinne’s only clue leads her to the water. With steadfast friends Malik, Bouki, and Dru, she sets out to uncover what mysterious force has taken the children and defeat it. She makes a bargain with the water jumbie Mama D’Leau for help, but even with a supernatural boost, Corinne will need all of her strengths to defeat the mysterious kidnapper and save her friends. Baptiste’s colorful, rich Caribbean characters return triumphantly in this sequel, and the mythos of the island continues to expand. Baptiste deepens what could be a light and charming undersea adventure with ties to African religions and the historical legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. As other young children of the African diaspora sort out their feelings about and relationships with slavery, so do Corinne and her loyal friends. While other tales may address it with a casual aside or scrub out the grimiest bits, leaving history in a shiny, tidy package removed from reality, Baptiste allows her characters to find and create ways to grapple with uncomfortable truths.
A stirring and mystical tale sure to keep readers thinking past the final page.
Printz winner Ruby’s middle-grade series opener gracefully tackles magic, history, and gentrification.
When a potato-faced real estate mogul buys their historic, rent-controlled building, three middle schoolers—bushy-haired, olive-skinned Jewish twins Tess and Theo and brown-skinned Trinidadian-Cuban neighbor Jaime—band together to solve a centuries-old mystery. At once thoroughly modern (a solar-powered city filled with a genuinely diverse cast of characters) and charmingly old-fashioned (steampunk machinery, ciphers, and a mystery at times reminiscent of Ellen Raskin or E.L. Konigsburg), Ruby’s vision of New York brims with innovative details that perfectly support her themes of friendship, family, and history. Emotionally fragile, highly intelligent Tess and Theo are balanced by the less-volatile, artistically gifted Jaime: all are complex, nuanced adolescents. They throw themselves into the Morningstarr Cipher, named for the twins who built much of New York’s astounding infrastructure (elevators that go sideways, subways that climb buildings), hoping to discover a treasure—but the Cipher “tr[ies] to solve you” as you solve it. This first volume opens up an ever expanding sense of magic, culminating in a bittersweet ending that promises bigger things to come. It’s a doorstopper, but other than one brief dip, the pacing keeps the pages turning, while the details reward close reading.
The past informs the present as the review informs readers: don’t let this one go.
Zed, a half-human, half-elven boy with brown skin, and white, human Brock are best friends eager for Guildculling.
Zed, the son of a single-parent human mother, has always wanted to join the Mages Guild. Brock’s choice of the Merchants Guild is rooted in family tradition. Covert, orchestrated circumstances lead the boys into the lowly Adventurer’s Guild, however, which only the guildless or unwanted enter. Zed and Brock soon learn that the Adventurer’s Guild is a rowdy mix of humans, elves, dwarves—and an archivist who can cast a mean spell or two when he has to—run by a ragged old woman by the name of Alabasel Frond. On their very first day, they and the other new apprentices are challenged to survive their first night beyond Freestone’s wall. A surprise attack by the Dangers that lurk without almost leads to the loss of life—and to a royal command that Frond eliminate the threat of the Dangers. On the mission to find the crystal that would protect the city, Zed and Brock’s friendship becomes closer than ever even as their kinship within the Adventurer’s Guild is deepened. Told in alternating chapters from the third-person perspectives of the two main characters, this tale is a page-turner that has the perfect mix of suspense, Princess Bride humor, and engaging characters, one that’s definitely earned the sequel to come.
A dazzling adventure sure to become a classic, if not a movie.
A foster boy learns that home is always closer than he thinks.
Ever since his increasingly senile granddad was taken away to “get sorted out,” Prez Mellows has been living in Children’s Temporary Accommodation. This summer, however, he’s staying with the loving and rambunctious Blythe family on their farm. The structure and daily chores give Prez’s life a sense of normalcy, but the arrival of a cigar-smoking, gravity-surfing extraterrestrial named Sputnik destabilizes Prez’s new routine. According to Sputnik, everyone in the universe has a mission, and Sputnik’s is to save Prez by saving Earth from Planetary Clearance. To do this, they must find 10 things that make Earth worth saving. Part of the book’s hilarity lies in the fact that Sputnik appears as a dog to everyone except Prez, who sees a funny-looking kid in a kilt and aviator goggles. Fortunately, Sputnik can read Prez’s mind, thus saving the boy from looking like he’s holding lengthy conversations with a dog. From a destructive lightsaber incident at a 5-year-old’s birthday party through a speed-of-light joy ride on a digger to Hadrian’s Wall to a major jailbreak fail, belly laughs are central to the action. The overall themes of home, family, and one’s place in the universe are reflected in moments of quiet sweetness. The narrative assumes a white default.
A raucous adventure with a heart of gold. (Fantasy. 8-13)
Giraffe, bored and looking for a friend, becomes pen pals with Penguin in this illustrated chapter book.
Even though Giraffe has nice weather and plenty to eat in his home in Africa, he is bored because he doesn’t have “an extra special friend.” A notice from an also-bored pelican offering “to deliver anything anywhere” spurs Giraffe to write a letter introducing himself (“I’m famous for my long neck”), and he asks Pelican to deliver it to the first animal he meets on the “other side of the horizon.” After a long flight, Pelican sees Seal. Seal delivers the letter to Penguin, since Penguin is “the only animal…who got letters….Most were from his girlfriend.” This original, playful story unfolds with perfect pacing as Giraffe and Penguin start a pen-pal correspondence. (Penguin, not sure what a neck is, writes back: “I think maybe I don’t have a neck. Or maybe I am all neck?”) Giraffe and Pelican, reading Penguin’s letters describing himself, are just as confused about what Penguin looks like. Hilarious deductive reasoning ensues. Young readers will love the silliness. Older readers (including adults) will relax in this gentle, judgment-free world of curiosity and discovery. Takabatake’s fresh, unaffected line illustrations create a seamless collaboration of art and words.
This is a rare book: joyful, ingenuous, playfully earnest, but without a whiff of studied cuteness.
In this sequel to Furthermore (2016), kindhearted Alice and friend Oliver travel from Ferenwood to wintery Whichwood with the assigned task of saving “a very strange” girl from a terrible fate.
Since her mother’s death and her father’s departure, 13-year-old Laylee has become Whichwood’s only mordeshoor with magical skills to “wash and package the dead destined for the Otherwhere,” a ghastly, grueling, unappreciated task, sapping her body and soul. Watching her bronze skin, amber eyes, and chestnut hair turn silver, Laylee hopelessly realizes she’s “irrevocably ill.” Shocked and offended when Alice arrives suddenly and announces she’s come to “fix” Laylee’s “problem,” Laylee spurns her well-meaning visitors who try to help her launder the dead. When it becomes obvious that Laylee’s dying, Alice applies her own special magic in an effort to save her. Meanwhile, unattended ghosts of Whichwood’s dead avenge Laylee by wreaking havoc on the town, igniting terrible repercussions. Initially failing in her task, Alice eventually relies on her heart to “fix” her new friend. In deliciously descriptive prose, the confiding, familiar narrator directly engages the “dear reader” with witty asides, explanatory footnotes, and cautionary warnings as Laylee’s woeful tale unfolds. As she did in Furthermore, Mafi uses her built world to interrogate norms and relationships in our own while never losing sight of her story.
Memorable new characters experience the restorative power of friendship in this darkly fascinating, somewhat ghoulish sequel to Furthermore
. (Fantasy. 10-14)
Orr (Nim’s Island, 2001, etc.) delivers a fantasy that follows an ill-fated girl’s journey from abandoned to accepted.
When Aissa is born with tiny, pink thumbs wiggling from her wrists, the Lady, her mother, is furious. Why have the gods forsaken her, the Lady wonders. Unable to bear the imperfection of her child, she demands that the wise-woman Kelya take the child and toss it off a cliff. Kelya cannot do it, however, and instead places the babe with a family that has just lost a newborn. Thus begins the arduous journey of a child forced to survive by her wits, who seems doomed to suffer loss after loss. Orphaned a second time and now a nameless servant in the palace, now-12-year-old Aissa sees opportunity in being chosen a bull dancer, one of the yearly sacrifices to the Bull King—but without a name, she cannot be chosen. Orr tells her tale in both narrative poetry and prose for an effect that is both fanciful and urgent, drawing a rich fantasy landscape filled with people and creatures worthy of knowing. An introductory note describes Orr’s inspiration in the legend of the Minotaur, but her story is no retelling but a meditation on rejection and acceptance, on determination and self-determination. The shifts between poetry and prose build tension just as surely as the bull dances do.
As mesmerizing as a mermaid’s kiss, the story dances with emotion, fire, and promise
. (Fantasy. 10-14)
A freak scientific accident leaves an ordinary Maine boy atomically bonded to a fourth-dimensional being in this debut middle-grade novel.
“If it wasn’t for the fused-with-Zyx-thing, I suppose I would just be normal—whatever that means,” writes Felix Yz in his “secret blog,” first published by Bunker as online interactive fiction. Counting down the days until an experimental Procedure might free him (possibly fatally) from the alien bond that has made movement and speech painfully difficult for 10 years, the white eighth-grader chronicles the quirks of his loving family, his passion for drawing and writing, his run-ins with bullies, and his awkward crush on another boy at school. Meanwhile Zyx (typing through Felix’s fingers) provides running commentary as something of a “wise fool” archetype, dispensing gnomic truths and mystical insight with the eager charm of a hyperintelligent puppy. But the outré premise is only the setup for this unique, whimsical tale; it’s also about webcomics and chess and geometry and jazz and the astonishing “threeness of things.” It’s about the suffocating terror of death and the sweet agony of first love. It’s about transcending binaries, both the obvious—Felix’s mother is bisexual, his grandparent gender-fluid, the boy of his dreams both biracial (black/white) and bilingual—and those more subtle and profound, all in the most gloriously matter-of-fact way. Above all, it’s about Felix’s voice: acutely perceptive, disarmingly witty, devastatingly honest, and utterly captivating.
Joyful, heartbreaking, completely bonkers, and exuberantly alive.
(Science fiction. 10-adult)