SECRETS

A pervasive tone of anger darkens this tale of a sullen 12-year-old whose world turns upside down when he learns that he's adopted. Having little use for the tyrannical, sixtysomething father who has raised him, T.J. is spending the summer hanging out at the zoo when a keeper, Nancy, confesses that she's his birth mother. At first T.J. reacts with hostility, but confirmation isn't long in coming, and soon he's meeting her regularly on the sly. A further shock awaits: Nancy introduces T.J. to his biological sister, eight-year-old Londyn, and the realization that Nancy kept her but gave him up leaves T.J. even more emotionally aloft. Nancy is manipulative and only a marginally competent parent, but T.J. finds something he needs in her and Londyn; he plies his sister with gifts, dips into his savings account to spruce up Nancy's shabby house, and consults a lawyer about opening a custody challenge. When his father finds out, T.J. runs away from home, but Ferguson contrives to have him in earshot when Nancy and his father achieve dÇtente. Neither adult is particularly appealing, and readers may have trouble buying T.J.'s conversion from angry loner to loving brother. Still, the story ends on an upbeat note, offering the hope that some bad choices in life can be corrected. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-689-80313-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

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. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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RAMONA'S WORLD

Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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