THE CASKET OF TIME

The power of story animates a tale that communicates—but is not overpowered by—urgent messages.

Themes of interdependence, respect for the environment, and personal initiative permeate this imaginative fantasy from Iceland.

Concerned about an economic crisis, adults are tempted by a new technology to abdicate responsibility, leaving the mess for others to solve. Shut yourself in a TimeBox and emerge not a day older once the unpleasantness has passed! Sigrun awakens unexpectedly to a world reclaimed by nature, while her parents remain in limbo, their boxes sealed shut. She meets a boy who leads her to a house where other children have gathered as an elderly woman relates an ancient saga of a princess whose devoted father violated the guiding principle behind the powers of animal communication entrusted to him, using animals to conquer human nations. The miserably overprotected princess, trapped in a casket of spiders’ silk so fine that it shuts out time, ultimately pays the price for his hubris—the rest of the world does not go unscathed, either. Within this story within the story lies both a lesson for the children and the opportunity to undo the present-day damage wrought by their negligent elders. Readers will enjoy spotting references to familiar fairy tales and puzzling out the connections between the two storylines. At times magical and romantic but often tragic and brutal (sometimes graphically so and also reflected in occasional coarse language), this book will reward thoughtful readers. Limited physical descriptions indicate a white default.

The power of story animates a tale that communicates—but is not overpowered by—urgent messages. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63206-205-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Restless Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

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. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

THE WORLD-FAMOUS NINE

A whodunit that doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise.

Coded clues put two young sleuths on the trail of a magic mandala hidden somewhere in a huge, bustling department store.

Hardly has meek young Zander Olinga arrived for a visit with Zina Winebee, his grandmother and owner-manager of the Number Nine Plaza, than he learns of a threat to the continued existence of the renowned emporium. The danger is linked to Darkbloom, a rumored evil spirit set on reversing the good-fortune charm left by Nepali monks at the store’s founding. The stone tablet bearing the magical mandala vanished 90 years ago, and finding its hiding place becomes a race pitting Zander and intrepid new ally Natasha Novikov against unknown saboteurs whose minds have been taken over by Darkbloom. The keys to the tablet’s location are a series of ingenious word and number clues left by Zander’s great-granduncle Vladimir, and Guterson provides enough hints along the way for savvy readers to decode them. What he doesn’t do is give either his leads or the many-faceted store (which, over the course of the story, is explored from the Ferris wheel on its roof to the bakery in the cellar) any more depth or distinctive traits than he gives Nepali religious practice. Darkbloom remains a shadowy bugaboo, its actual nature and motivations unexplained and its fate left anticlimactically unresolved. Zander’s father is from Cameroon, and his mother reads white; names cue some diversity in the supporting cast. Final art not seen. (This review has been updated for factual accuracy.)

A whodunit that doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2024

ISBN: 9780316484442

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

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