Mostly accomplishes its feel-good goals

THE RECKLESS CLUB

Vrabel’s latest middle-grade novel explicitly remixes John Hughes’ iconic 1985 movie, The Breakfast Club, for the Instagram generation.

Five eighth-graders report for all-day detention for pranks they committed on the last day of middle school. Each comes from a different clique: Jason, an artistic white “Nobody”; Lilith, a talented Indian-American “Drama Queen”; Rex, an emo white “Rebel”; Wes, a charismatic African-American “Flirt”; and Ally, a high-achieving white “Athlete.” They gather at an assisted-living home, where their strict principal introduces them to his sister, who runs the facility. The students are then each paired with a resident at the home, and they are also assigned an essay, to be completed by the end of the day. As in the film, these five teenagers who believe they have nothing in common bond over the course of the day as they open up and reveal their struggles: divorce, poverty, racism, bullying. And, similar to the film, the novel ends with a jointly written essay (“But after today, we just see each other. And we’re going to change things, make them better, starting now”) signed “The Reckless Club.” The third-person narration mostly alternates among Jason, Lilith, and Wes, with Ally’s and Rex’s perspectives much later. The novel is tender, and it goes where Hughes’ film never could have with its multicultural cast, but it’s slow to start and cannot escape a preachy feel as the kids open up.

Mostly accomplishes its feel-good goals . (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7624-9040-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Running Press

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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