Heartfelt and utterly original; a book about an unlikely alliance that should touch readers of all ages.

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Lucky Boy

The arrival of a distant relative shakes up the Buras household in new and unexpected ways in this debut middle-grade novel.

With bad teeth and a checkered past, Dwight “Dewey” Tomlinson has been kicked around by life. So when a tip from a telephone psychic convinces him that connecting with eighth-grader Max Buras will clear up his karma, the 44-year-old makes a beeline for Boise, Idaho. Max is initially skeptical of Dewey’s claims. After all, who has ever heard of “bio-harmonic convergence”—Madam Hagar’s mystical explanation for why two people can act as each other’s good luck charms. But soon Max is a believer. Dewey hits a “hot streak” on the video poker machine at his hotel. And before long, the unpopular Max—manager of the school golf team with a body “shaped like a bag of marshmallows”—starts to see his luck turn as well. Even more stunning, after going four years without speaking, Max’s 10-year-old brother, Gabe, begins to talk again. Everything, Max reasons, is tied to Dewey’s arrival. So when the revelation of a chilling incident from Dewey’s past sends the tall man packing, it’s up to Max and his sister, Sadie, to keep Dewey—and the good luck he brings—in their lives. Morfit invests deeply in his characters, and the move pays off. Although the book’s first two chapters are relegated largely to scene-setting, the reader, slowly but surely, gets to know (and love) Max and Dewey. And by the time the plot heats up, it’s impossible not to root for the two protagonists in this powerful coming-of-age tale. Morfit’s treatment of Max expertly encapsulates the adolescent experience. As the novel progresses, the formerly flabby teen ditches his Coke-bottle glasses and starts working out. When a friend’s father remarks on his new physique, Max is conflicted: “For some reason he felt sort of apologetic about it, about not being the same kid who’d been Andy’s best friend, who’d whiled away all those after-school hours playing Ping-Pong and Scrabble.”

Heartfelt and utterly original; a book about an unlikely alliance that should touch readers of all ages.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9964655-0-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Elevate Fiction

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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ZATHURA

A trite, knock-off sequel to Jumanji (1981). The “Jumanji” box distracts Walter Budwing away from beating up on his little brother Danny, but it’s Danny who discovers the Zathura board inside—and in no time, Earth is far behind, a meteor has smashed through the roof, and a reptilian Zyborg pirate is crawling through the hole. Each throw of the dice brings an ominous new development, portrayed in grainy, penciled freeze frames featuring sculptured-looking figures in constricted, almost claustrophobic settings. The angles of view are, as always, wonderfully dramatic, but not only is much of the finer detail that contributed to Jumanji’s astonishing realism missing, the spectacular damage being done to the Budwings’ house as the game progresses is, by and large, only glimpsed around the picture edges. Naturally, having had his bacon repeatedly saved by his younger sibling’s quick thinking, once Walter falls through a black hole to a time preceding the game’s start, his attitude toward Danny undergoes a sudden, radical transformation. Van Allsburg’s imagination usually soars right along with his accomplished art—but here, both are just running in place. (Picture book. 6-8)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-25396-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2002

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