Even though this is mostly Azalea’s tale, it’s a refreshing novel inspired by real-life Chinese-American communities not...

MAKING FRIENDS WITH BILLY WONG

It’s 1952, and Azalea Ann Morgan, an 11-year-old white girl, doesn’t want to leave Texas and help Grandma Clark, who hurt her foot and lives in Paris Junction, Arkansas.

Worse, Mama appears dead set on leaving fast before dropping off Azalea with the grandmother Azalea barely knows and whose enormous garden will need serious tending. The last thing Azalea wants is to talk to strangers. And Paris Junction seems to be full of them. Right off the bat, Azalea sees someone she’s never seen before: a Chinese-American boy in a tree waving to her. The boy is Billy Wong, a budding reporter, whose family owns Lucky Foods, the only grocery store in town. Grandma Clark claims they can be friends, but Azalea has doubts. How she can become friends with someone from China? Can he even speak English? As garden helpers arrive, Azalea must interact with more strangers, including the town troublemaker. Despite their different backgrounds (and as the title suggests), a tender friendship between Azalea and Billy develops. Writing in alternating prose and verse voices for Azalea and Billy, respectively, Scattergood paints an honest portrait of two young characters dealing with quick judgments, prejudice, and racism. Azalea’s voice feels the more developed of the two and dominates the story. What’s needed are more insights from Billy and his unique perspective on this historical setting.

Even though this is mostly Azalea’s tale, it’s a refreshing novel inspired by real-life Chinese-American communities not often seen in stories. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-545-92425-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

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

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. 19, 2019

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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