MARTIN MCLEAN, MIDDLE SCHOOL QUEEN

Martin McLean, you’d better work it.

Mixed-race (Afro-Cuban and White) Martin McLean’s seventh grade year starts out with a bang. On his first day, Martin has a panic attack in math class when a comment made by a bullying Mathletes teammate makes Martin wonder if he’s gay. Sensing this conversation might be on the horizon, Martin’s Afro-Cuban single mother calls in her brother, Tío Billy, a gay theater producer and sometime drag queen who has been a strong male figure in Martin’s life. Billy, sensing the need to help Martin discover a broader community than his school peers provide, takes Martin to an LGBTQ–friendly cafe that’s hosting an all-ages drag competition. Bit by the showbiz bug, Martin wants to enter only to realize that it’s on the same night as the Mathletes’ regional championship. What’s a queen-in-training to do? Overall, Zaczek tells an amusing story that’s bursting with diversity at every turn. Martin doesn’t have the snap of Tim Federle’s Nate, but his often naïve approach to life will attract fans of Richard Peck’s The Best Man (2016). Die-hard fans of drag and RuPaul’s Drag Race may spot thin plot points now and then: Why isn’t Martin YouTubing makeup tutorials? Does he really not know about RuPaul? Readers new to drag culture will most likely overlook these points and enjoy Zaczek’s sweetly crafted world.

A tasty treat. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3570-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

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. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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