Beautifully done. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

UNBOUND

A NOVEL IN VERSE

The author of Serafina's Promise (2013) returns with another lyrical novel in verse.

When Grace turns 9, she is forced to leave the daily work of helping Aunt Sara tend her baby brothers and their garden, the daily joy of seeing Mama and Uncle Jim come home each night from the fields. Unlike the rest of her enslaved family, Grace has light skin and blue eyes. (The fact that her father must have been white, with all that implies, is never made explicit.) Her coloring—possibly light enough to pass—makes her more desirable for a house slave in the Missus' and Master's eyes, so Grace must work in the plantation kitchen and even serve at the table. The cook, Aunt Tempie, seems to bow to all of Missus' demands with a compliance Grace can't emulate—though Grace works hard, she sometimes lets her true feelings slip. Missus finally decides that “bringin Grace's family / to the auction block / might finally teach Grace / who she is and / where she belongs.” Grace reacts with courage and resourcefulness, urging her family to flee to the swamps and ensuring they won’t be caught. Told through Grace's eyes in Southern rhythms that approach dialect with a poet's careful sensibility, the story unfolds with a combination of historical precision, honesty, and adventure. Burg describes her research, based in part on narratives of the formerly enslaved collected by the Federal Writers Project, in the backmatter.

Beautifully done. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-93427-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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An inspiring sports story all the way to the buzzer.

WE ARE FAMILY

Basketball is life in Lorain, Ohio.

A group of seventh graders have different reasons for joining Hoop Group, an elite youth basketball program. Jayden, who lives in a tiny, cramped house with his mother and grandmother, desperately needs the money playing for the NBA would bring. Chris’ uncle made it out of Lorain and into the NBA, but he doesn’t share his uncle’s skills and can’t quite live up to his father’s expectations. Tamika’s dad was Hoop Group’s coach before Parkinson’s disease put the team’s future in jeopardy; she has a lot to prove and dreams of being the next Pat Summitt. Dex and his hardworking single mom are struggling with poverty, but he just loves the game––especially the Cleveland Cavs. And Anthony, frankly, doesn’t have much of a choice; it was either join this character-building group or face expulsion from school. A makeshift team of preteens with a lot on their plates, they discover as much about themselves (and one another) off the court as they do on it. The authors present a convincing argument about the value of basketball beyond points on the board and big contracts. The characters’ dreams are relatable along with the book’s universally valuable emphasis on hard work and perseverance. But the specifics about what it takes to make it in basketball and the fast-paced on-court action provide something special for young fans of the game. Main characters read as Black.

An inspiring sports story all the way to the buzzer. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297109-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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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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