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UNCRASHABLE DAKOTA

Leaden.

Air travel is reimagined in this sluggish alternative-history novel.

Like the Titanic that inspired it, the Wendell Dakota airship, powered by farting beetles whose gaseous emissions are powerful enough to rip trees from the ground, is said to be uncrashable. But on its maiden voyage in April 1912, mutinous sailors and a bizarre beetle-worshipping cult hijack the ship. Who is the mastermind behind the coup? Hollis Dakota, son of the ship’s deceased, famed designer, is determined to find out, along with apprentice beetle keeper Delia Cosgrove. But their investigation is hindered by Rob Castor, son of the ship’s chief operating officer, Jefferson Castor. Rob’s father is married to Hollis’ recently widowed mother, and when Hollis finds evidence that Jefferson Castor may have orchestrated the mutiny, he and Rob are at each other’s throats. Then the Dakota hits an invisible obstruction in the sky, and the battle lines disappear as everyone fights for survival. With such a crackerjack premise, this plot should rise like beetle gas. And certain parts do, like the flashbacks that detail Hollis’ grandfather’s discovery of the beetles’ talent during the American Civil War. But dense third-person prose that constantly telegraphs every character’s motivations slows the rest of the action to a crawl, and the story quickly sinks beneath its weight.

Leaden. (Steampunk. 12-16)

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9630-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS

From the Girl of Fire and Thorns series , Vol. 1

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel,...

Adventure drags our heroine all over the map of fantasyland while giving her the opportunity to use her smarts.

Elisa—Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza of Orovalle—has been chosen for Service since the day she was born, when a beam of holy light put a Godstone in her navel. She's a devout reader of holy books and is well-versed in the military strategy text Belleza Guerra, but she has been kept in ignorance of world affairs. With no warning, this fat, self-loathing princess is married off to a distant king and is embroiled in political and spiritual intrigue. War is coming, and perhaps only Elisa's Godstone—and knowledge from the Belleza Guerra—can save them. Elisa uses her untried strategic knowledge to always-good effect. With a character so smart that she doesn't have much to learn, body size is stereotypically substituted for character development. Elisa’s "mountainous" body shrivels away when she spends a month on forced march eating rat, and thus she is a better person. Still, it's wonderfully refreshing to see a heroine using her brain to win a war rather than strapping on a sword and charging into battle.

Despite the stale fat-to-curvy pattern, compelling world building with a Southern European, pseudo-Christian feel, reminiscent of Naomi Kritzer's Fires of the Faithful (2002), keeps this entry fresh. (Fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202648-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011

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