The magical element doesn't add much to this story of a low-key labor heroine, but it may draw in fantasy readers

CIRCLE OF CRANES

The horror of sweatshop life is alleviated by a magical heritage.

Suyin doesn't want to go to America, but the people of her romanticized, 21st-century Chinese village want someone who can send American dollars back to fund schools and electricity. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that the smuggler bringing her to Gold Mountain is a liar. She's not traveling on a cruise ship with "first-class accommodations [and] twelve-course banquets" but on a "rickety rust bucket" too small for the passengers and unsafe for the open ocean. The perilous journey Suyin makes with her fellow passengers, mostly other girls, doesn't end with safety. When they arrive in New York City, the girls spend 14-hour-days in an overheated sweatshop. Meanwhile, Suyin tries to be worthy of her crane ancestors, who tell her in visions and dreams that she is the last crane princess; without her help, the magical crane women are doomed. Can she be worthy of both the cranes, who need a savior to rescue their queen from the netherworld, and her fellow laborers, who need a leader to demand eight months of unpaid wages? The confusing worldbuilding is a mashup of careful details about some of China's ethnic minorities combined willy-nilly with elements from other eras, other parts of China and vast oversimplifications. Inexplicably, Suyin's magical heritage comes from a Japanese folk tale.

The magical element doesn't add much to this story of a low-key labor heroine, but it may draw in fantasy readers . (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3443-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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