A sweet, supernatural middle grade tale that’s grounded by memorable characters.

THE MYSTERIOUS PHONE CALL

From the Mud Street Misfits Adventure series , Vol. 2

In O’Dell and Lauderdale’s (The Girl in the Blue Tie-Dye Shirt, 2018) middle grade sequel, the Mud Street Misfits take on their town’s mayor in order to save a treasured building.

Preteen Sarah Barrett was left on the steps of the Santa Monica Public Library as an infant. Now she lives in small-town Ozark, Missouri with her adoptive parents, Heather and Rachel, and her younger stepbrother, David. She and David are members of the Mud Street Misfits, along with their friends Connor Harrison and Liam and Molly MacLeod. Recently, Liam hit his head and developed psychic powers; the Misfits’ ensuing adventure brought them inside the abandoned Ozark Orpheum, which hosted live music for decades but now lies in decay. Sarah has learned that Rachel is joining a Chicago law firm, which is devastating news; the family has already moved frequently, and Ozark is the first place that truly felt like home to her. After discovering that Ozark’s Mayor Scott plans to demolish the Orpheum in just two weeks, Sarah looks into how to get the building certified as a historic site, due to its age, condition, and significance. The kids sneak back into the Orpheum to find something that will convince City Hall to reconsider. In the building’s attic, they find a steamer trunk full of costumes, and, strangely, a black rotary phone that provides Liam with psychic visions—and later does something else that’s unexpected. With the help of writer Steve Lewis, who once wrote about the Orpheum for The Ozark Trail magazine, and Cora, their psychic friend and crystal expert, can the Misfits save a building that’s full of powerful memories? O’Dell and Lauderdale again depict the passionate moral clarity of youth, which can be challenging to carry into adulthood. Sarah’s melancholy character and resulting motivations give her a compelling narrative arc: She wants to save the Orpheum because she can’t save her place within the Misfits. At one point, she feels “as if she had no physical substance and was suspended above the earth by a tenuous thread”; music helps her, however, as it can “take her to another world.” Her loving parents, Rachel and Heather, who are “committed to each other and to creating a family,” are portrayed with matter-of-fact positivity. The author again supplies his young target audience with tastes of both science and spirituality, as when Cora, in a discussion of ghosts, quotes Albert Einstein, notes that “Energy cannot be created or destroyed.” The Hindu concept of chakras—energy centers in the body—comes up in a scene in Cora’s crystal shop; the proprietor offers Sarah a piece of kyanite, which she says will help relieve stress in the girl’s throat chakra, allowing her to “speak [her] truth with clarity.” This installment focuses mainly on Sarah, as the previous one did on Liam and Connor, giving the series a buoyantly episodic feel, and Ozark, with its haunted corners and inquisitive Misfits, continues to be a wonderful place to visit.

A sweet, supernatural middle grade tale that’s grounded by memorable characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73267-232-1

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Mud Street Misfits, LLC

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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