A carefully crafted blend of realism, age-appropriate sensibilities, and children’s interests.

MY LIFE IN THE FISH TANK

When her older brother develops bipolar disorder, a seventh grader must cope with its effect on her family.

When Zinnia’s parents get the call that her older brother, Gabriel, has been in a car accident, time, like Gabriel’s new diagnosis of bipolar disorder, seems to take on a life of its own. Chapter headings that mix vague and specific days and times reinforce this notion. Likewise, flashbacks to odd and even scary events with her brother help Zinny see that Gabriel’s condition was not a sudden onset. Although the story focuses on how Zinny deals with this conflict on a personal level, such as retreating from friends, it also explores the effects of mental illness on Zinny’s entire family (who seem to be white). While Gabriel recovers in a treatment center, Zinny’s narration reveals that her mom wants to keep everything secret, her dad’s working longer hours, her older sister feels guilty, and, with attention elsewhere, her younger brother is neglected. There’s no single savior who helps Zinny but instead a string of people and events that work together: a lunchtime therapy group at school (both group and student body are diverse), a school counselor who notes the harm of “crazy” language, scientific experiments that reframe her thinking, forming new friendships and salvaging old ones, and finding humor where she can. The last brings levity to this tough topic.

A carefully crafted blend of realism, age-appropriate sensibilities, and children’s interests. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3233-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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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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