Unclear cultural connections muddy the waters of this original paranormal tale.

THE GHOST COLLECTOR

When people need to rid their homes of pesky ghosts, Shelly is right by her Ililiw/Cree grandmother’s side to learn how to help the lingering spirits of the dead get to the other side.

Once she and her grandmother identify a ghost, whether of a person, a pet, or even household vermin, they allow it to attach itself to their hair before releasing it to dissipate from the earthly plane. Though this ability is matrilineal, Shelly’s mother objects to her daughter’s taking up the practice; she’d rather Shelly not spend so much time with the dead. When a sudden loss hits the family, Shelly sinks into a depression, spending time in the graveyard with her ghostly friends and desperately seeking to reconcile her grief. Mills (who’s of Ililiw/Cree and settler descent) mentions Shelly’s First Nations heritage at the outset and includes brief references to the ceremonial use of burning sweet grass, but that heritage is very much just a backdrop to the story. Most of the living people Shelly encounters, as well as the ghosts in the graveyard that she befriends, are not Indigenous, and the story centers on the ghost-hunting business and Shelly’s grief rather than exploring death as it relates to Cree culture. But that cultural identity raises questions. When Shelly’s grandmother gives music-loving ghost Joseph a new cassette tape, for instance, is she interacting with the dead teenager within a Cree paradigm or a mainstream paranormal one? Readers can only speculate.

Unclear cultural connections muddy the waters of this original paranormal tale. (Paranormal fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-77321-296-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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