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

THE GREAT UPENDING

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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A satisfying, winning read.

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BOOKED

Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class.

Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer—and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable.

A satisfying, winning read. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-57098-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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THE BAD BEGINNING

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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