JULIA’S KITCHEN

Every time 11-year-old Cara worries about something, it turns out fine. She feels like God’s little helper, until a faith-shattering tragedy occurs. Cara’s house catches fire; her dad gets out, but her mom and younger sister Janie don’t. Overcome with guilt and sorrow because she had stayed overnight at a friend’s house, and with her grieving dad unable to comfort her, Cara clings to family memories but feels that God has abandoned her—or is it the other way around? Relatives, friends and the school social worker try to help, but it’s the discovery of her mom’s cookie recipes from her catering business (“Julia’s Kitchen”) that enables Cara to reincarnate the spirit of her mother and assuage her heartache. When she impulsively accepts a phone order, pretending to be Julia, she finds that baking brings her comfort and acceptance of the message that, “life is a journey, not a destination.” More spiritual than religious in tone, some details seem convenient but the emotions are real, the protagonist empathetic and the resolution believable. Family bonds, Jewish traditions and overcoming grief to reconnect with life are deftly braided in this poignant story, just like the challah on Friday nights. (Hebrew/Yiddish glossary, recipe) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 13, 2006

ISBN: 0-374-39932-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2006

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Warm, delicious and filling.

PIE

What do you get when you take some scrumptious pie recipes, stir in a mix-up of a mystery involving an overweight cat and a legacy, then add a sly satirical nod to the Newbery Medal? This irresistible confection.  

In 1955, 10-year-old Alice’s beloved Aunt Polly, the peerless “Pie Queen of Ipswitch,” who has always given away the extraordinary products of her oven simply because it makes her happy, dies. She bequeaths her incomparable piecrust recipe to Lardo, her cat—or does she?—and leaves Lardo to Alice. Thus the stage is set for a rich, layered and funny tale about friendship, family relationships and doing what’s right. The characters are wonderfully drawn. While doing her best to carry on Aunt Polly’s legacy, trying to figure out how to wrest the secret from the cat, dealing with a nefarious woman poking around town and learning about the renowned “Blueberry Medal,” which everyone in town is trying to win, Alice draws closer to her mom, a resolution Aunt Polly would have cherished. Alice and her family eventually discover the solution to the mystery in a plot twist that is both comical and plausible. An epilogue, set in 1995, is deeply poignant and gratifying. In addition to the beautifully wrought story, readers will savor and want to attempt the 14 recipes, each of which precedes a chapter.

Warm, delicious and filling.   (recipes, pie credits) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-545-27011-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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