In an Upper East Side private school, a status-conscious, label-conscious, preppy 1981, Penelope Rosenberg is confronting the ambiguities of 12 going on 13. She’s arrived in the memorable territory of cliques, mean girls, and growing up, when simple friendships can be transformed by some girls into weapons—or liabilities. As her elementary-school classmates from Elston rush ahead into seventh grade, Penelope finds herself trailing the pack. One bullying girl dictates to the rest that kids new to Elston be spurned, and Penelope is startled to discover that her feelings oppose this, and that she’s ambivalent about her long-time “best” friendship. She develops a tenuous friendship outside of school with a somewhat eccentric, individualistic classmate. Pollet’s light-hearted rendering of surface concerns (is it okay to buy earrings that match the alpha girl’s?) gives way to deeper currents in which Penelope finds herself trying to stay afloat. One classmate is made a scapegoat and literally marked by a mob of girls wielding felt-tip pens; Penelope suspects that her mother’s new “friendship” is really an affair; she realizes that deciding to part from the dictating mob will be painful. Light, but sturdy middle-school fare. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-439-58394-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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Witty repartee between the central characters, as well as the occasional well-done set piece, isn’t enough to hold this hefty debut together. Teenagers Seth and Kendra are dropped off by traveling parents at their grandfather’s isolated Connecticut estate, and soon discover why he’s so reluctant to have them—the place is a secret haven for magical creatures, both benign and decidedly otherwise. Those others are held in check by a complicated, unwritten and conveniently malleable Compact that is broken on Midsummer Eve, leaving everyone except Kendra captive in a hidden underground chamber with a newly released demon. Mull’s repeated use of the same device to prod the plot along comes off as more labored than comic: Over and over an adult issues a stern but vague warning; Seth ignores it; does some mischief and is sorry afterward. Sometimes Kendra joins in trying to head off her uncommonly dense brother. She comes into her own at the rousing climax, but that takes a long time to arrive; stick with Michael Buckley’s “Sisters Grimm” tales, which carry a similar premise in more amazing and amusing directions. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59038-581-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Shadow Mountain

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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Curtis debuts with a ten-year-old's lively account of his teenaged brother's ups and downs. Ken tries to make brother Byron out to be a real juvenile delinquent, but he comes across as more of a comic figure: getting stuck to the car when he kisses his image in a frozen side mirror, terrorized by his mother when she catches him playing with matches in the bathroom, earning a shaved head by coming home with a conk. In between, he defends Ken from a bully and buries a bird he kills by accident. Nonetheless, his parents decide that only a long stay with tough Grandma Sands will turn him around, so they all motor from Michigan to Alabama, arriving in time to witness the infamous September bombing of a Sunday school. Ken is funny and intelligent, but he gives readers a clearer sense of Byron's character than his own and seems strangely unaffected by his isolation and harassment (for his odd look—he has a lazy eye—and high reading level) at school. Curtis tries to shoehorn in more characters and subplots than the story will comfortably bear—as do many first novelists—but he creates a well-knit family and a narrator with a distinct, believable voice. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-32175-9

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1995

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