“Nobody believed me when I said two skunks stole my old trike. But I’d seen those stinkers take it. Swear.”
Fourth grade brings its share of troubles for Mateo Martinez. His former best friend, Johnny Ramirez, starts to hang out with a couple of bike-riding bullies. Mateo finds a new best friend in Ashwin, an Indian-American boy with a streak of weird in him. Both he and Ashwin spend their lunchtimes at the library, checking out books on knights and medieval warfare. Meanwhile, Mateo must behave as a big brother should with his 5-year-old sister, Mila, a headstrong girl who wants his old tricycle. One night a pair of skunks steals the desired toy. Weird. Things get even weirder when Mateo hears these skunk thieves talk during a stakeout. Yardi packs a lot into such a slim novel, and it’s a testament to her skill that it never once feels like too much. Utilizing a gentle sense of humor and incisive insight, the author negotiates Mateo’s developing identity with aplomb, especially his Mexican-American heritage: “Trying to speak Spanish makes me feel like I’m doing it wrong, and I hate that.” Mateo finds no easy answers, and that’s OK.
A magnificent novel that defines what it is to be an older brother, a friend, and, yes, even a knight.
After discovering a vine with powerful properties in the protected Forest of Wonders, 12-year-old Raffa journeys to Obsidia’s capital, where he uncovers a sinister government plan to use botanicals to endanger and enslave animals.
Raised to be an apothecary like his parents and uncle, Raffa’s something of a prodigy. Despite Raffa’s “keen instinct for apothecary,” though, his father treats him like an apprentice. When Raffa cures an injured bat with a remedy created from a mysterious red vine, the bat is suddenly able to speak. Subsequent work with the vine triggers Raffa’s sudden departure to Gilden to warn his uncle and cousin of the plant’s potential dangers. In Gilden, Raffa betrays his father’s teaching by using apothecary for “his own ends rather than for healing.” Reunited with his uncle and cousin, Raffa’s eagerness to participate in their groundbreaking work evaporates when he realizes his uncle’s involved in horrific experiments with animals. The measured pace builds to a cliffhanging climax as Raffa balances family loyalties, compelling ethical dilemmas, and his role as an apothecary, all at a level completely accessible to the audience. Echo the bat is a particular delight, and among Raffa’s new friends in Gilden are dark-skinned Kuma and working-class Trixin. Final art not seen.
With its engaging hero, talking animals, arcane magic, moral issues, and unresolved plot, this first of a proposed trilogy promises more exciting forest wonders.
A sophisticated robot—with the capacity to use senses of sight, hearing, and smell—is washed to shore on an island, the only robot survivor of a cargo of 500.
When otters play with her protective packaging, the robot is accidently activated. Roz, though without emotions, is intelligent and versatile. She can observe and learn in service of both her survival and her principle function: to help. Brown links these basic functions to the kind of evolution Roz undergoes as she figures out how to stay dry and intact in her wild environment—not easy, with pine cones and poop dropping from above, stormy weather, and a family of cranky bears. She learns to understand and eventually speak the language of the wild creatures (each species with its different “accent”). An accident leaves her the sole protector of a baby goose, and Roz must ask other creatures for help to shelter and feed the gosling. Roz’s growing connection with her environment is sweetly funny, reminiscent of Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family. At every moment Roz’s actions seem plausible and logical yet surprisingly full of something like feeling. Robot hunters with guns figure into the climax of the story as the outside world intrudes. While the end to Roz’s benign and wild life is startling and violent, Brown leaves Roz and her companions—and readers—with hope.
Thought-provoking and charming.
(Science fiction/fantasy. 7-11)
The queen is dying, a strange menace lures townspeople to places unknown, and Princess Jeniah’s only hope for saving her monarchy lies in the one place prophesied to bring about its destruction.
In Emberfell, where perpetual happiness reigns, Jeniah and Aon, a commoner, feel like outsiders because they alone seem to know sorrow and fear. Bound together by the grief of parental loss, the two protagonists vow to uncover the secret behind Aon’s mother’s strange disappearance and how it relates to the foreshadowed downfall of the monarchy’s seemingly blissful 1,000-year rule. The mysterious Dreadwillow Carse, the only place in the kingdom plagued by sadness, appears to hold the answers to both. In his latest fantasy novel, Farrey (The Grimjinx Rebellion, 2015, etc.) weaves a captivating and suspenseful tale of the power of female friendship and the pain of growing up. His masterful crafting of Jeniah’s character pierces the pampered-princess stereotype, gifting readers with an intricate portrayal of a frightened yet tenacious dark-skinned girl for whom impending responsibility for an entire kingdom hardly feels like a fairy tale. True leadership, like responsible adulthood, means living with the pressure to do what is right tinged with the constant fear of failure. As they uncover the horrifying secrets of the Carse, Jeniah and Aon learn that a life well-lived includes sorrow as well as joy.
Heart-rending and genuine, this magical coming-of-age story is not to be missed.
A 12-year-old girl who doesn’t fit into her own world embarks on a harrowing quest with a boy she doesn’t trust to find her missing father.
With white hair and skin, quirky Alice Queensmeadow’s an oddity in colorful, magical Ferenwood. Since her father’s mysterious disappearance “unzipped her from top to bottom,” Alice finds life full of “unspoken hurts.” Alice hopes to prove herself in the annual Surrender, when 12-year-olds demonstrate their unique magical talents. Humiliated by her disappointing performance and with “nothing left to lose and an entire father to find,” Alice accepts an invitation from brown-skinned Oliver, a boy she distrusts, to help him bring home her father. Together they descend to alien Furthermore, starting with Slumber, the first of many peculiar villages they will encounter, each with arbitrary rules they must follow. Learning Oliver has deceived her, Alice ditches him but quickly discovers they need each other to survive and find her father. Told in rich, luscious, clever prose by an omniscient narrator whose chatty asides warn and inform, Alice’s remarkable adventure transports her across bizarre landscapes where she eventually realizes how wonderful it is to be herself and to have a friend she can trust.
An original new Alice confronts her own wonderland in this smashing fantasy
. (Fantasy. 9-12)
An elderly witch, a magical girl, a brave carpenter, a wise monster, a tiny dragon, paper birds, and a madwoman converge to thwart a magician who feeds on sorrow.
Every year Elders of the Protectorate leave a baby in the forest, warning everyone an evil Witch demands this sacrifice. In reality, every year, a kind witch named Xan rescues the babies and find families for them. One year Xan saves a baby girl with a crescent birthmark who accidentally feeds on moonlight and becomes “enmagicked.” Magic babies can be tricky, so Xan adopts little Luna herself and lovingly raises her, with help from an ancient swamp monster and a chatty, wee dragon. Luna’s magical powers emerge as her 13th birthday approaches. Meanwhile, Luna’s deranged real mother enters the forest to find her daughter. Simultaneously, a young carpenter from the Protectorate enters the forest to kill the Witch and end the sacrifices. Xan also enters the forest to rescue the next sacrificed child, and Luna, the monster, and the dragon enter the forest to protect Xan. In the dramatic denouement, a volcano erupts, the real villain attempts to destroy all, and love prevails. Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces. Luna has black eyes, curly, black hair, and “amber” skin.
Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick.
Vanguard Middle School’s no place for breaking rules; computerized Vice Principal Barbara sees to that.
Sixth-grader Maxine “Max” Zelaster and her friends struggle to pass the Federal School Board’s nonstop tests in the newly instituted Constant UpGrade program. The kids think they are doing well, but their grades don’t reflect their work. Their cumulative scores are dragged even lower by discipline tags and citizenship infractions, all noted by Barbara’s all-seeing electronic eyes. Enter Fuzzy, the government’s attempt to create a robot that will program itself. Scientists in the Robot Integration Program ask Max to show Fuzzy around because of her interest in robots, but this leads to further trouble for Max at school and at home; Barbara just seems to have it in for her. Fuzzy uncovers irregularities with test scoring and begins to suspect something’s wrong with the vice principal, but can he save his new friend Max while evading corporate spies and his creators’ plans for his future? Origami Yoda creator Angleberger teams up with science-fiction writer Dellinger for this funny, thrilling, and thought-provoking page-turner. Riffing on some of the same issues as Origami Yoda’s second trilogy—individuality and the dangers of standardized testing—the duo have crafted a day-after-tomorrow cautionary tale of friendship with a fuzzy, robotic heart.
Provocative issues that never overwhelm storytelling make this a winner.
(Science fiction. 8-12)