Seventh grader Milo Cruikshank narrates and illustrates an up-and-down year in yet another new school. He works his way through a crush and finds both friends who share his interests and an adult he can talk to about the ways he still misses his mom, who died two years earlier. Looking at the cover and even reading the first two chapters won’t prepare readers for the emotional content of this moving book. Milo’s mother’s death left a gaping, silent hole in his family. Over the course of the year he finds a way to fill that void, get his father and older sister talking about her again and say goodbye properly. The accessible text is full of cartoons illustrating and occasionally carrying the action; Milo makes lists, too. Close to failing math, socially inept and awkward with girls, even one who simply wants to be a friend, he is easy to care about. Middle-school readers will find his school life familiar and painfully funny, but they may be surprised by the poignancy of his story. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4169-9430-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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An entertaining tale of baseball, family and loyalty.


Sixteen-year-old Julio Ramirez Jr. dreams of being a junior Nacional and playing for Cuba against the best young players around the world.

Baseball is “practically a religion” in Cuba, and Julio’s father was like a Cuban god, an all-star pitcher for the Cuban National Team. Now, having defected, he’s a star for the Miami Marlins. But instead of pride, Julio feels resentment toward his father for abandoning his family to a life of poverty while he, the great El Fuego, lives the high life in Miami with his multimillion-dollar contract. Moreover, Julio’s baseball dreams may not come true: How can he be trusted to leave the country when his father defected; won’t he do the same? So Julio defects too, and in a tense and slightly comic scene, he drives to Florida in a green ’59 Buick that’s been converted into a boat. Julio’s reconciliation with his father is handled deftly in its poignant awkwardness, and baseball action is appropriately exciting, though the notion that Julio is allowed to hang out with his father during Game 7 of the World Series is seriously implausible. Volponi wisely shies away from a tidy, inspirational ending but does leave room for hope for reconciliation.

An entertaining tale of baseball, family and loyalty. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-78518-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Despite this shortcoming, another interesting read for horse lovers and Abby Lovitt fans.


From the Horses of Oak Valley Ranch series , Vol. 4

Smiley continues the equine adventures of Abby Lovitt (True Blue, 2011, etc.).

When Abby, now 14 and a high school freshman, takes her beloved horse True Blue to a local horse show, she's shocked by how poorly they perform over fences. A clinic immediately following, with a nationally known rider, goes no better: While he seems to like Abby's riding, he has nothing nice to say about Blue and is, in fact, so rude toward Abby's group that one girl, Sophia, gets off her horse and refuses to ride again. Period. Abby gets a chance to school Sophia's lovely horse Pie in the Sky, which helps her understand why Blue is having trouble. A completely different sort of clinic, with a "natural horseman" (à la Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for The Horse Whisperer), gets Abby, Sophia and Blue back on the road to success. Smiley's writing is, as always, nearly flawless. Her evocation of the horse world of northern California in the 1960s is pitch-perfect, and Abby remains a complex and sympathetic character. But this story carries less weight than its three predecessors. Readers will believe from the start that Abby will sort out Blue's issues, and Sophia's problems are not particularly compelling. Without a strong problem, the story lacks tension and the resolution, force.

Despite this shortcoming, another interesting read for horse lovers and Abby Lovitt fans. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-375-86968-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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