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Raw and sad but lit with occasional glints of humor and ending, as it should, on a rising note.

The sudden loss of her closest friend leaves a child clinging desperately to memories and connections.

Deep in denial, Ayla is sure that though her lifelong bestie “went away,” Kiri (who used they/them pronouns) will be back in time for their 11th birthday. But, as gradually becomes clear, “went away” means more than just a temporary absence. Cast in half-page prose poems, this grief journal sensitively tracks Ayla’s hard progress from “Kiri left” to an acknowledgment of what really happened to Kiri and, past that, to a tentative understanding that Kiri will always be present in the negative spaces that, as in a drawing, make everything else “full of color and shape and life.” Rather than trot in a therapist or some other mouthpiece for wise counseling, the author gives her protagonist subtler (and more believably effective) help reaching that insight—most notably parents who give her space rather than unwanted advice, and her grandfather’s old telephone. Placed in the tree that was planted at her birth, the phone draws passersby to make therapeutic “calls” to missed family members, including (by one 5-year-old scene stealer) a beloved deceased pet. Readers feeling Ayla’s profound sense of loss will be relieved when she finds a way to live with it. Physical descriptions are minimal, but hints in the text suggest that Ayla and her family are people of color.

Raw and sad but lit with occasional glints of humor and ending, as it should, on a rising note. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780593698457

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Rocky Pond Books/Penguin

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable.

A reward of $5,000,000 almost ruins everything for two seventh graders.

On a class trip to New York City, Felix and Benji find a wallet belonging to social media billionaire Laura Friendly. Benji, a well-off, chaotic kid with learning disabilities, swipes $20 from the wallet before they send it back to its owner. Felix, a poor, shy, rule-follower, reluctantly consents. So when Laura Friendly herself arrives to give them a reward for the returned wallet, she’s annoyed. To teach her larcenous helpers a lesson, Laura offers them a deal: a $20,000 college scholarship or slightly over $5 million cash—but with strings attached. The boys must spend all the money in 30 days, with legal stipulations preventing them from giving anything away, investing, or telling anyone about it. The glorious windfall quickly grows to become a chore and then a torment as the boys appear increasingly selfish and irresponsible to the adults in their lives. They rent luxury cars, hire a (wonderful) philosophy undergrad as a chauffeur, take their families to Disney World, and spend thousands on in-app game purchases. Yet, surrounded by hedonistically described piles of loot and filthy lucre, the boys long for simpler fundamentals. The absorbing spending spree reads like a fun family film, gleefully stuffed with the very opulence it warns against. Major characters are White.

Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable. (mathematical explanations) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-17525-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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