Awards & Accolades

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A well-written tale for tweens that may spark conversations about dealing with crucial changes.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

A preteen navigates the big and small challenges of life in this debut novel.

Lizzy Zander stands on the doorstep of a whole new life after her family relocates from New Jersey to New York City. Although Lizzy knows the move to the city is the best thing for her dad, who is living with multiple sclerosis, she can’t help worrying that she’ll never fit in. Things start to look up when Lizzy becomes friends with Cassie, a fellow swimmer who lives in the building next door. Cassie introduces Lizzie to new friends and includes her in a secret club. As a different world of people and places opens up to Lizzie, she must deal with all the complicated feelings that come with big life changes. She is worried about starting a new school and deeply misses her old friends in New Jersey. Most confusing of all, she is both troubled and embarrassed by her dad’s deteriorating health. Clemans does an excellent job tackling the issues, both large and small, and the accompanying range of emotions that Lizzy is facing. The author handles Lizzy’s very real feelings about her dad’s disease with great care while deftly portraying the other hurdles, such as peer pressure and fitting in, that make up the daily lives of most adolescents. The author’s narrative, particularly appropriate for tweens who are struggling with upheavals in their lives or families, also features a diverse cast of characters. Lizzy, with pale skin and freckles, envies Cassie’s “gorgeous skin…like coffee ice cream.” Funny emails from Lizzy to her friends back in New Jersey and sweet sketches help provide a window into the girl’s world.

A well-written tale for tweens that may spark conversations about dealing with crucial changes.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-08-173141-0

Page Count: 183

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020


Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020


A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth.

A nuanced novel about a neurodiverse preteen’s political and social awakening by a Pura Belpré Honor–winning author.

Sixth grader Emilia Rosa Torres sometimes has a hard time keeping up with schoolwork and concentrating on one thing at a time, but her software-developer mother and superinvolved abuelita help her keep on task. Days before her father’s return to their Atlanta suburb from his most recent deployment, her mother goes on a business trip, leaving the middle schooler to juggle his mood swings, her friend troubles, and her looming assignments all on her own. When a social studies project opens her eyes to injustices past and present, Emilia begins to find her voice and use it to make an impact on her community. Writing with sensitivity and respectful complexity, Cartaya tackles weighty issues, such as immigration, PTSD, and microaggressions, through the lens of a budding tinkerer and activist who has ADHD. The members of this Cuban American family don’t all practice the same religion, with Emilia’s Catholic grandmother faithfully attending Mass multiple times a week and the protagonist’s mother celebrating her culture’s Yoruba roots with Santería. Conversations on race and gender crop up through the narrative as Emilia’s grandmother likes to emphasize her family’s European heritage—Emilia can pass as white, with her fair complexion, light eyes and auburn hair. All of these larger issues are effortlessly woven in with skill and humor, as is the Spanish her family easily mixes with English.

A pitch-perfect middle-grade novel that insightfully explores timely topics with authenticity and warmth. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-451-47972-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Kokila

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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