As subtle as an extremely heartwarming brick


Shortly after moving to her grandmother’s tiny, rural town, a girl develops vitiligo.

Emma notices the first spot, like a white freckle, on the day of her grandmother’s funeral. Though she’s distracted in the following days and weeks by grief and loneliness, missing the grandmother with whom she’d made up stories about fairies in the woods, Emma can’t miss the new white spots on her skin, which keep appearing and spreading. Perhaps if she had her sister’s and father’s “buttercream” skin she could ignore it, but Emma has her mother’s “much darker complexion,” and the dots are unmistakable. (If Emma’s biracial, nothing is made of that fact in the story.) A doctor confirms what Emma’s internet search has hinted at: Emma has vitiligo, an autoimmune condition that causes the skin to lose pigment. She’s perfectly healthy, she learns, as she spends a chapter reading from a medical pamphlet, relaying helpful and informative excerpts to readers. Unsurprisingly, Emma’s vitiligo, combined with being a new kid in school, has led to some vicious bullying in her new seventh grade. What would Emma do without Fina, her new friend? Fina is warm, supportive, and Mexican American, providing comfort, extremely unkidlike counseling, and educational explanations about the Day of the Dead and quinceañeras. Emma’s troubles and the magical stories she’d told with Gram in the forest come together in a warm and after-school-special–ish Thanksgiving in which even the bully is revealed to be good at heart.

As subtle as an extremely heartwarming brick . (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289328-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the...


At a time when death has become an acceptable, even voguish subject in children's fiction, Natalie Babbitt comes through with a stylistic gem about living forever. 

Protected Winnie, the ten-year-old heroine, is not immortal, but when she comes upon young Jesse Tuck drinking from a secret spring in her parents' woods, she finds herself involved with a family who, having innocently drunk the same water some 87 years earlier, haven't aged a moment since. Though the mood is delicate, there is no lack of action, with the Tucks (previously suspected of witchcraft) now pursued for kidnapping Winnie; Mae Tuck, the middle aged mother, striking and killing a stranger who is onto their secret and would sell the water; and Winnie taking Mae's place in prison so that the Tucks can get away before she is hanged from the neck until....? Though Babbitt makes the family a sad one, most of their reasons for discontent are circumstantial and there isn't a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from their fate or Winnie's decision not to share it. 

However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the first week in August when this takes place to "the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning") help to justify the extravagant early assertion that had the secret about to be revealed been known at the time of the action, the very earth "would have trembled on its axis like a beetle on a pin." (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0312369816

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean.


A 12-year-old copes with a brain tumor.

Maddie likes potatoes and fake mustaches. Kids at school are nice (except one whom readers will see instantly is a bully); soon they’ll get to perform Shakespeare scenes in a unit they’ve all been looking forward to. But recent dysfunctions in Maddie’s arm and leg mean, stunningly, that she has a brain tumor. She has two surgeries, the first successful, the second taking place after the book’s end, leaving readers hanging. The tumor’s not malignant, but it—or the surgeries—could cause sight loss, personality change, or death. The descriptions of surgery aren’t for the faint of heart. The authors—parents of a real-life Maddie who really had a brain tumor—imbue fictional Maddie’s first-person narration with quirky turns of phrase (“For the love of potatoes!”) and whimsy (she imagines her medical battles as epic fantasy fights and pretends MRI stands for Mustard Rat from Indiana or Mustaches Rock Importantly), but they also portray her as a model sick kid. She’s frightened but never acts out, snaps, or resists. Her most frequent commentary about the tumor, having her skull opened, and the possibility of death is “Boo” or “Super boo.” She even shoulders the bully’s redemption. Maddie and most characters are white; one cringe-inducing hallucinatory surgery dream involves “chanting island natives” and a “witch doctor lady.”

Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean. (authors’ note, discussion questions) (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62972-330-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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