Fast-paced and warmhearted with a satisfying conclusion.

THE GILDED GIRL

A young magician learns about social justice the hard way.

Twelve-year-old Emma Harris is the new girl at posh Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic, where she will learn to kindle, a complicated process in which elite girls undergo a Kindling Ceremony to harness their magical abilities. The setting is early-1900s Manhattan, with a twist—the wealthy have powers that give them all they need or desire while the poor are snuffed, or deprived of their magic. Emma, whose Mama is dead, has a close bond with her Papa, a brilliant magitect whose high expectations she hopes to live up to. When disaster strikes, Emma is summarily deprived of her wealthy trappings and forced into servitude by the mercenary, two-faced Miss Posterity. Determined to avoid the workhouse, Emma buckles down and is befriended by the school maid, Izzy O’Donnell. Aided by house dragon Figgy, the girls hatch a plot to kindle themselves and escape. Emma’s true personality comes to the fore in extremis, and she learns compassion for others, regardless of class. With plenty of drama and heroic rescues, this fantasy holds a lot of appeal for magic-loving readers, including fun touches like bland food that becomes delicious with the touch of a crystal and rooms that move around, Hogwarts style. Main characters are White; some secondary characters reflect the diversity of New York City.

Fast-paced and warmhearted with a satisfying conclusion. (Fantasy. 8-13)

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-31393-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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