Authentic depictions of Deaf child characters are vanishingly few; this does not add to that small number.

SILENT JOURNEY

Thirteen-year-old Scott wants a place to belong, just like the abandoned dog he befriends one summer.

Ever since Scott’s mother died seven years ago, he has been deaf. A skilled lip reader, he communicates with his father using American Sign Language, but when his father leaves him with his stern grandmother in order to take an extended business trip, he struggles to connect. The stray dog becomes solace, traveling with Scott when he is then sent to live with an estranged uncle. Some might see Scott’s condition as conversion deafness, but this is not a book about the experience of living with this rare disorder, never named in the book. It is a book about a boy who becomes deaf after trauma, then is cured of his deafness as if by magic with a second trauma. Early in the story, Scott wishes that God would give him back his hearing. Instead of learning to accept his hearing loss, he is granted his wish. Scott’s use of ASL is depicted as a crutch that keeps him from bravely using his voice. In addition to this overused and offensive depiction of deafness, the narrative’s pace and tone are uneven. Watson raises the stakes exponentially in the last act, and the ending is surprisingly tragic. Scott and all the important characters are presumed white.

Authentic depictions of Deaf child characters are vanishingly few; this does not add to that small number. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-947159-30-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Red Chair Press

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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