A wonderful and inspiring feminist fantasy.

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THE TROUBLED GIRLS OF DRAGOMIR ACADEMY

In the kingdom of Illyria, the lives of young girls are of little consequence.

Twelve-year-old Marya Lupu has always been told there is no place for her in the world, whereas her older brother, Luka, has been primed all his life to become one of the rare, respected sorcerers who protect the realm against the mysterious Dread and the wicked witches of Kel. A mistake lands Marya at the Dragomir Academy, an isolated boarding school for troubled girls, where she and her classmates are expected to reform themselves and leave the past behind. But the more time passes, the more the girls spot the holes in the fabric of the stories they are told. Through Ursu’s hallmark thoughtful and inspiring writing, readers delve into a story that seamlessly combines intriguing worldbuilding that is full of magic with a feminist perspective that interrogates the systemic oppression at society’s core. Marya’s developing relationships with her classmates as well as with her brother form the beating heart of the book. But it’s Marya’s inner conflict as she asks the question, “Who does the story serve?” and considers what she has always been told about herself that elevates this tale into unmissable territory, with its remarkably raw and honest look at the emotional and psychological consequences of living under patriarchal ideology. Marya is pale skinned in a world with characters of varying skin tones.

A wonderful and inspiring feminist fantasy. (map) (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-227512-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Plays to Rowling’s fan base; equally suited for gifting and reading aloud or alone.

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THE CHRISTMAS PIG

A 7-year-old descends into the Land of the Lost in search of his beloved comfort object.

Jack has loved Dur Pig long enough to wear the beanbag toy into tattered shapelessness—which is why, when his angry older stepsister chucks it out the car window on Christmas Eve, he not only throws a titanic tantrum and viciously rejects the titular replacement pig, but resolves to sneak out to find DP. To his amazement, the Christmas Pig offers to guide him to the place where all lost Things go. Whiffs of childhood classics, assembled with admirable professionalism into a jolly adventure story that plays all the right chords, hang about this tale of loss and love. Along with family drama, Rowling stirs in fantasy, allegory, and generous measures of social and political commentary. Pursued by the Land’s cruel and monstrous Loser, Jack and the Christmas Pig pass through territories from the Wastes of the Unlamented, where booger-throwing Bad Habits roam, to the luxurious City of the Missed for encounters with Hope, Happiness, and Power (a choleric king who rejects a vote that doesn’t go his way). A joyful reunion on the Island of the Beloved turns poignant, but Christmas Eve being “a night for miracles and lost causes,” perhaps there’s still a chance (with a little help from Santa) for everything to come right? In both the narrative and Field’s accomplished, soft-focus illustrations, the cast presents White.

Plays to Rowling’s fan base; equally suited for gifting and reading aloud or alone. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-79023-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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Serious themes lightened by comedic touches; the strong emotional attachments will linger with readers.

ALWAYS, CLEMENTINE

Letters from a super-intelligent mouse to the beloved chimpanzee she leaves behind when she escapes a research lab.

Poignant, loving, and threaded through with the joy of discovery, the letters that Clementine mentally composes to her gentle simian friend tell a tale that takes suspenseful turns while affirming tolerance and self-expression. Thanks to tweaked DNA, she’s thinking about prime numbers the day she is born, helps other mice navigate mazes, and figures out how to escape her cage at night and sign with the lab’s sad, affectionate chimp, Rosie. When a guilt-ridden research assistant spirits her and another mouse subject out of the lab, leaving them in a nearby mailbox, she begins a series of reports to Rosie about the wonders of the outside world. Eleven-year-old Gus and his grandfather welcome the fugitives rather than turn them in for the large reward offered by the lab when the mousenapping is discovered. They create a storm of public protest against animal experimentation by televising a chess match in which Clementine beats five experienced human players simultaneously. Along with offering an optimistic, aspirational view of human nature as she winds the story to a joyous conclusion, Sorosiak tucks in a subplot around nonverbal Hamlet, the other mouse escapee, who constructs a model of Notre Dame out of wood chips, as food for further thought about different intelligences. The human cast seems to be mostly White.

Serious themes lightened by comedic touches; the strong emotional attachments will linger with readers. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2884-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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Rich, naturalistic details will delight lovers of marine life.

ODDER

A Monterey Bay sea otter comes of age.

Odder’s mom told her to stay away from sharks, humans, and anything else she didn’t understand, but after saving her friend Kairi from a shark attack, she encounters all three. Injured herself during the rescue, Odder ends up recuperating at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or Highwater as the otters call it, where she once lived as a young orphaned pup. Last time, the humans helped her reintegrate into the wild, but because of her injuries this time the outcome might be different. Soon Kairi is there too, stricken with “the shaking sickness” and having lost her newborn pup. Now Kairi is fostering a new pup, and soon one is introduced to an initially reluctant Odder in hopes that she will help raise it so it can return to the wild. The free verse effortlessly weaves in scientific information, giving Odder a voice without overly anthropomorphizing any of the animals. The natural appeal of sea otters will draw readers in, but the book doesn’t shy away from real-world threats such as predators, disease, and pollution. Loosely based on the stories of real sea otters rehabilitated at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, this novel will give readers lots to talk about, but uneven pacing and a rushed ending may leave some unsatisfied. Charming black-and-white spot art captures the world and life of the sea.

Rich, naturalistic details will delight lovers of marine life. (glossary, author’s note, bibliography, resources) (Verse novel. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-14742-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2022

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