Eye-opening and engaging; a triumphant mashup of underdog sporting contest and teen drama.

PUSHING PAWNS

THE CHESS CLUB: BOOK ONE

This debut YA novel sees a Black chess enthusiast commit more fully to his high school teammates and—through their camaraderie—tackle problems away from the board.

Fourteen-year-old Moses “Mose” Middleton attends Q722, a public school in Jackson Heights, Queens. Mose is a keen amateur chess player and has organized a team to compete in tournaments run by the NYC Chess in the Schools program. Though united by a desire to prove themselves, Mose and his friends have difficulties that prevent them from giving their best. Mose is prone to concentration lapses, often the result of focusing too much on his opponent. P.D. “Personality Disorder” Morales is a genius underachiever with truancy issues that frequently extend to chess. (He will wander off midcompetition and forfeit games.) Maggie Wang has problems with a creepy uncle at home. Esther Toussaint is a self-driven overachiever with little time for the game. And Zamir Hoxha is a recently arrived Albanian immigrant who is being bullied at school. If the team is to survive, Mose knows he’ll need to bring the members closer together. His first step? To seek out the mentorship of Viktor Fleischmann, a Russian player. Viktor “was rumored to be an international grandmaster who’d lost his marbles and run out of luck.” Under his guidance, will the five young players become greater than the sum of their troubled parts? In this series opener, Novak writes in the first person, past tense from Mose’s perspective. The dialogue is convincingly Generation Z, and Mose is an able representative of a non-White, unprivileged upbringing—someone forced by life to be acutely aware of racial and social dynamics yet determined to rise above injustice and always behave appropriately (he is mindful of toxic masculinity). Mose is not without flaws, but he remains a thoughtful, self-aware protagonist who is easy to cheer for. The other characters are well drawn, and the author is both measured and respectful in presenting different ideologies. The chess content is accurate throughout yet not so detailed as to put off nonplayers. The story moves quickly but naturally, weaving with assurance between the chess plot and Mose’s and his friends’ various issues. Young readers should very much approve and enjoy.

Eye-opening and engaging; a triumphant mashup of underdog sporting contest and teen drama.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-49435-107-4

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula.

HOCUS POCUS AND THE ALL-NEW SEQUEL

In honor of its 25th anniversary, a Disney Halloween horror/comedy film gets a sequel to go with its original novelization.

Three Salem witches hanged in 1693 for stealing a child’s life force are revived in 1993 when 16-year-old new kid Max completes a spell by lighting a magical candle (which has to be kindled by a virgin to work). Max and dazzling, popular classmate Allison have to keep said witches at bay until dawn to save all of the local children from a similar fate. Fast-forward to 2018: Poppy, daughter of Max and Allison, inadvertently works a spell that sends her parents and an aunt to hell in exchange for the gleeful witches. With help from her best friend, Travis, and classmate Isabella, on whom she has a major crush, Poppy has only hours to keep the weird sisters from working more evil. The witches, each daffier than the last, supply most of the comedy as well as plenty of menace but end up back in the infernal regions. There’s also a talking cat, a talking dog, a gaggle of costumed heroines, and an oblique reference to a certain beloved Halloween movie. Traditional Disney wholesomeness is spiced, not soured, by occasional innuendo and a big twist in the sequel. Poppy and her family are white, while Travis and Isabella are both African-American.

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-02003-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Freeform/Disney

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises.

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THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END

What would you do with one day left to live?

In an alternate present, a company named Death-Cast calls Deckers—people who will die within the coming day—to inform them of their impending deaths, though not how they will happen. The End Day call comes for two teenagers living in New York City: Puerto Rican Mateo and bisexual Cuban-American foster kid Rufus. Rufus needs company after a violent act puts cops on his tail and lands his friends in jail; Mateo wants someone to push him past his comfort zone after a lifetime of playing it safe. The two meet through Last Friend, an app that connects lonely Deckers (one of many ways in which Death-Cast influences social media). Mateo and Rufus set out to seize the day together in their final hours, during which their deepening friendship blossoms into something more. Present-tense chapters, short and time-stamped, primarily feature the protagonists’ distinctive first-person narrations. Fleeting third-person chapters give windows into the lives of other characters they encounter, underscoring how even a tiny action can change the course of someone else’s life. It’s another standout from Silvera (History Is All You Left Me, 2017, etc.), who here grapples gracefully with heavy questions about death and the meaning of a life well-lived.

Engrossing, contemplative, and as heart-wrenching as the title promises. (Speculative fiction. 13-adult).

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-245779-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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