An enjoyable, funny novel with a thoughtful ethical underpinning.

ULYSSES FEATHERTON

A HEAD OF CLASS

After visiting the optometrist, a seventh-grader discovers that he can control people’s minds in this comic middle-grade novel.

It’s Ulysses Odysseus Featherton’s 12th birthday, but he doesn’t have much to celebrate. His overly conscientious parents give him unappetizing health food and annoying vocabulary tips in equal measure, and he isn’t exactly the most popular kid at Sunnyvale Middle School; that would be Brayden Flanagan, sports star and shoo-in for seventh-grade class president. No one else is even bothering to run—until Brayden nominates Ulysses as “the weakest, the least popular, the one he was guaranteed to crush in a landslide victory.” Ulysses accepts this, as he doesn’t mind losing so much, but the idea of speaking on stage in front of everyone terrifies him. Today, on his birthday, Ulysses must visit the optometrist, but a substitute is filling in for his usual doctor. Dr. Egnarts (spell it backwards) puts drops in Ulysses’ eyes that somehow allow the boy to make people do the opposite of whatever their intentions are. He uses this power to get junk food for dinner and get out of gym class, which is great—but even better, he can now defeat Brayden. Ulysses discovers, though, that his hunger to win makes him as much of a bully as Brayden ever was. He learns something about himself and gains an unexpected ally. Debut author Brown gives readers an appealing hero with an engaging moral dilemma. At first, Ulysses feels justified in manipulating others, but Brown shows how becomes troubled by his actions: “I had decided that it was somehow more honorable to talk my way into getting what I wanted rather than blink my way into it.” Just because he’s been bullied in the past, Ulysses isn’t portrayed as automatically being in the right, and by the same token, Brayden’s character—at first, a stereotypical middle school bully—is revealed to have surprising, hidden depths. It’s a nice twist, for example, that Brayden has better, more concrete ideas to improve the school than Ulysses does. And Ulysses’ comical, often rueful first-person voice is a big plus as well.

An enjoyable, funny novel with a thoughtful ethical underpinning.

Pub Date: April 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5440-5876-4

Page Count: 126

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2017

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A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula.

HOCUS POCUS AND THE ALL-NEW SEQUEL

In honor of its 25th anniversary, a Disney Halloween horror/comedy film gets a sequel to go with its original novelization.

Three Salem witches hanged in 1693 for stealing a child’s life force are revived in 1993 when 16-year-old new kid Max completes a spell by lighting a magical candle (which has to be kindled by a virgin to work). Max and dazzling, popular classmate Allison have to keep said witches at bay until dawn to save all of the local children from a similar fate. Fast-forward to 2018: Poppy, daughter of Max and Allison, inadvertently works a spell that sends her parents and an aunt to hell in exchange for the gleeful witches. With help from her best friend, Travis, and classmate Isabella, on whom she has a major crush, Poppy has only hours to keep the weird sisters from working more evil. The witches, each daffier than the last, supply most of the comedy as well as plenty of menace but end up back in the infernal regions. There’s also a talking cat, a talking dog, a gaggle of costumed heroines, and an oblique reference to a certain beloved Halloween movie. Traditional Disney wholesomeness is spiced, not soured, by occasional innuendo and a big twist in the sequel. Poppy and her family are white, while Travis and Isabella are both African-American.

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-02003-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Freeform/Disney

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly...

THE GIVER

From the Giver Quartet series , Vol. 1

In a radical departure from her realistic fiction and comic chronicles of Anastasia, Lowry creates a chilling, tightly controlled future society where all controversy, pain, and choice have been expunged, each childhood year has its privileges and responsibilities, and family members are selected for compatibility.

As Jonas approaches the "Ceremony of Twelve," he wonders what his adult "Assignment" will be. Father, a "Nurturer," cares for "newchildren"; Mother works in the "Department of Justice"; but Jonas's admitted talents suggest no particular calling. In the event, he is named "Receiver," to replace an Elder with a unique function: holding the community's memories—painful, troubling, or prone to lead (like love) to disorder; the Elder ("The Giver") now begins to transfer these memories to Jonas. The process is deeply disturbing; for the first time, Jonas learns about ordinary things like color, the sun, snow, and mountains, as well as love, war, and death: the ceremony known as "release" is revealed to be murder. Horrified, Jonas plots escape to "Elsewhere," a step he believes will return the memories to all the people, but his timing is upset by a decision to release a newchild he has come to love. Ill-equipped, Jonas sets out with the baby on a desperate journey whose enigmatic conclusion resonates with allegory: Jonas may be a Christ figure, but the contrasts here with Christian symbols are also intriguing.

Wrought with admirable skill—the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: April 1, 1993

ISBN: 978-0-395-64566-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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