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A heartfelt exploration of a young writer’s struggles and successes, with practical advice included.

If you already know your fantasy story’s plot, characters, and world, then writing it will be easy, right? So why is Lyla so stuck?

Attending a different middle school than her best friend, Rania Goswami, seventh grader Lyla hasn’t found other close friends; at lunch she’s stuck with weird, friendless, animal-obsessed Journey Lombardi-Sullivan. At least Lyla’s favorite teacher assigns them creative writing, so Lyla can finally start the story she’s long been plotting, one about a Scribe named Aster’s quest through the haunted Quagmire to rescue her big sister. But why won’t the words come? And why do Rania and her new friends seem to be laughing at Lyla’s writing project? At home, constant fighting between Dahlia (Lyla’s “genius” older sister) and their parents hides Dahlia’s desperate desire not to attend college. How can Lyla unstick her writing, recognize her true friends, and find a practical way to help her sister? With wonderfully rich characterization and impeccable pacing, the author interweaves middle school friend and family dramas with struggles familiar to any writer. Of the many constructive suggestions offered by Lyla’s teacher, some do help her, such as not remaining laser focused on winning the contest. The inserted excerpts from Lyla’s novel demonstrate both her writing-process difficulties and how her real-life problems subconsciously inform her writing. Most main characters are cued white; Rania reads Indian American.

A heartfelt exploration of a young writer’s struggles and successes, with practical advice included. (writing tips) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2024

ISBN: 9781534489868

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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