A meandering, gentle, lovely tale of a deeply bonded family, replete with a clever mystery.


A family struggles to keep their farm afloat and to afford medical care for 12-year-old Sara, who has a heart condition due to a disorder called Marfan syndrome.

Sara and her younger brother, Hawk, are kids who have grown up accustomed to being competent and useful, and their drought-stricken farm, which has been in their family for generations, can use all the help it can get. Since she feels she’s letting her family down, it’s particularly hard for Sara to cope with her diminished physical abilities, and when surgery becomes inevitable, she and Hawk hatch a wild scheme to raise the necessary funds that involves their mysterious, elderly tenant, known to them as The Mister. Lyrical first-person narration from Sara’s perspective—presented in short chapters that occasionally almost take the shape of brief poems—takes its time setting the stage for this tender, classic mystery. The rural Pennsylvania setting and family traditions, such as making half a dozen pies in one go, often feel like throwbacks in time though the novel is contemporary. Older middle graders and young teens with a taste for literary fiction will savor the language and appreciate the quirky, sympathetic characters, who are mostly white, or assumed to be, as race or ethnicity is not specified. Kephart describes her research and writing process in a closing note.

A meandering, gentle, lovely tale of a deeply bonded family, replete with a clever mystery. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4814-9156-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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The Baudelaire children—Violet, 14, Klaus, 12, and baby Sunny—are exceedingly ill-fated; Snicket extracts both humor and horror from their situation, as he gleefully puts them through one terrible ordeal after another. After receiving the news that their parents died in a fire, the three hapless orphans are delivered into the care of Count Olaf, who “is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed.” The villainous Count Olaf is morally depraved and generally mean, and only takes in the downtrodden yet valiant children so that he can figure out a way to separate them from their considerable inheritance. The youngsters are able to escape his clutches at the end, but since this is the first installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there will be more ghastly doings. Written with old-fashioned flair, this fast-paced book is not for the squeamish: the Baudelaire children are truly sympathetic characters who encounter a multitude of distressing situations. Those who enjoy a little poison in their porridge will find it wicked good fun. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-440766-7

Page Count: 162

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot.


In sixth grade, Izzy Mancini’s cozy, loving world falls apart.

She and her family have moved out of the cottage she grew up in. Her mother has spent the summer on Block Island instead of at home with Izzy. Her father has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan partially paralyzed and traumatized. The only people she can count on are Zelda and Piper, her best friends since kindergarten—that is, until the Haidary family moves into the upstairs apartment. At first, Izzy resents the new guests from Afghanistan even though she knows she should be grateful that Dr. Haidary saved her father’s life. But despite her initial resistance (which manifests at times as racism), as Izzy gets to know Sitara, the Haidarys’ daughter, she starts to question whether Zelda and Piper really are her friends for forever—and whether she has the courage to stand up for Sitara against the people she loves. Ferruolo weaves a rich setting, fully immersing readers in the largely white, coastal town of Seabury, Rhode Island. Disappointingly, the story resolves when Izzy convinces her classmates to accept Sitara by revealing the Haidarys’ past as American allies, a position that put them in so much danger that they had to leave home. The idea that Sitara should be embraced only because her family supported America, rather than simply because she is a human being, significantly undermines the purported message of tolerance for all.

A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-30909-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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