Integrating games and narrative has potential, but shouldn’t saving humanity demand something more gripping than working a...

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THE ASTEROID

[HYPERNOVEL]

A young man is determined to save Earth from an alien invasion—with a few breaks for video games.

The fate of the planet hinges on readers’ successfully completing a series of simple (or at least simplistic) games between chapters. The planet watches in shock as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth, then slows, stops and proves to be an alien spaceship. The newcomers make friendly overtures to train humanity in its advanced technology, and teenage Vincent is one of a dozen youngsters chosen. Of course, the aliens have more nefarious intentions: They need youthful brains to help power the ship’s organic supercomputer. It’s a familiar but fun setup, and though the writing is generally flat, Cataldo gives Vincent an appealingly whip-smart attitude. (Echoes of Ender’s Game are strong.) But the weakness in the storytelling is exacerbated by the interstitial games, which have a stylish 1980s-arcade look but are dull to actually play when they’re not exasperating. One, involving landing a ship on the asteroid, requires maddeningly hyperprecise steering to complete; another, in which readers swipe to shoot down alien craft, is rock-simple. Have paper handy: There’s also an “intelligence test” with 24 questions of the SAT-prep variety (“If 20 swallows build 40 nests in 60 days…”). Though closing the app will bookmark the story, failing a mission sends users back to the very beginning, to work puzzles and games all over again—a serious flaw.

Integrating games and narrative has potential, but shouldn’t saving humanity demand something more gripping than working a Sudoku? (Requires iOS 6.0 & up.) (iPad science-fiction app. 10-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Bruno Cataldo

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2013

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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 engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

From the New Kid series , Vol. 1

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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