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THE OTHER, BETTER ME

Comfortably low-key, character-driven entertainment.

An amiable fifth grader’s school assignment leads her to seek out the father she’s never known.

Lola and her single mom occupy a mobile home in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, owned by elderly neighbor and friend Ms. Archambault. All Lola knows about her Australian dad is his name and that, having overstayed his tourist visa, he was deported before her birth. Momma’s uncomfortable talking about him and, lately, too tired to do much beyond her evening restaurant job. Lola’s friends include classmates Kiana, her BFF, and friendly Nick (but not unfriendly, universally disliked Mallory). Tiffany, 5, whom Lola reads to on the school bus; Ms. A, who cares for Lola after school; Kiana’s parents; and Nick’s sister, Kat, are Lola fans, too. A class assignment—to imagine who they’d be under different life circumstances—reminds Lola how little she knows of her own history, prompting her to attempt connecting with her father. Kiana, Nick, and Kat are happy to help, but Lola avoids telling Momma, now sidelined by a serious illness. The characters are well drawn and believable, although John avoids naming race or even physical descriptions, reinforcing a white default reading. Cheerful Lola’s refreshing: a well-liked, kind, sensible kid with a droll take on the world. If the ending feels pat, the resolution too easily achieved, the scattered subplots involving class, entitlement, and autonomy leave readers something meatier to ponder.

Comfortably low-key, character-driven entertainment. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-283565-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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THE ONE AND ONLY FAMILY

From the One and Only series , Vol. 4

Not the most satisfying wrap-up, but it’s always good to spend time in the world of this series.

Beloved gorilla Ivan becomes a father to rambunctious twins in this finale to a quartet that began with 2012’s Newbery Award–winning The One and Only Ivan.

Life hasn’t always been easy for silverback gorilla Ivan, who’s spent most of his life being mistreated in captivity. Now he’s living in a wildlife sanctuary, but he still gets to see his two best friends. Young elephant Ruby lives in the grassy habitat next door, and former stray dog Bob has a home with one of the zookeepers. All three were rescued from the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Ivan’s expanded world includes fellow gorilla Kinyani—the two are about to become parents, and Ivan is revisiting the traumas of his past in light of what he wants the twins to know. When the subject inevitably comes up, Applegate’s trust and respect for readers is evident. She doesn’t shy away from hard truths as Ivan wrestles with the fact that poachers killed his family. Readers will need the context provided by knowledge of the earlier books to feel the full emotional impact of this story. The rushed ending unfortunately falls flat, detracting from the central message that a complex life can still contain hope. Final art not seen.

Not the most satisfying wrap-up, but it’s always good to spend time in the world of this series. (gorilla games, glossary, author’s note) (Verse fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780063221123

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

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