This historical hodgepodge begs the question, what is this book really about? (Historical adventure. 10-14)

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THE METROPOLITANS

What happens when a small group of misfits collide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the day Pearl Harbor is attacked? They stumble haphazardly into an Arthurian mystery that has Nazi ties, and it is somehow up to them to save New York from a Nazi terrorist attack, of course.

The four kids are a young white orphan, Madge; Kiku, daughter of a Japanese museum curator; Joe, a Mohawk boarding school runaway; and Walt, a white Jewish boy sent to New York from Germany to escape the concentration camps. These four come together to solve a mystery to decode the stolen Kelmsbury, an ancient manuscript. The new friends have had a shared dream of a mysterious man in a trench coat, and they suspect it signals a magical link that ties them to the King Arthur legend. There is a lot going on in this far-fetched tale that reads like an adolescent version of The DaVinci Code, and credulity needs to stretch to accommodate it, as the author leaves it to this arbitrary bunch to run around the Met in search of clues amid an underworld of adult spies during wartime. Contemporary young readers may wish for a primer to sort through the inundation of historical references, be it to the World War II era or ancient Britain. As the text also name-checks Boris Karloff, Joan Fontaine, and the Queen of Sheba, among others, with a little dash of Mohawk language tossed in, readers will need to be either very flexible or ready to look up what they don’t know.

This historical hodgepodge begs the question, what is this book really about? (Historical adventure. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-99766-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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Uneven pacing and clunky writing undermine this examination of trauma and PTSD.

IF WE WERE GIANTS

Matthews, of the Dave Matthews Band, and co-author Smith offer a fantasy that explores the damage done by violence inflicted by one people against another.

Ten-year-old Kirra lives in an idyllic community hidden for generations inside a dormant volcano. When she and her little brother make unwise choices that help bring the violent, spindly, gray-skinned Takers to her community—with devastating results—Kirra feels responsible and leaves the volcano. Four years later, Kirra’s been adopted into a family of Tree Folk that live in the forest canopy. Though there are many Tree Folk, individual families care for their own and are politely distant from others. Kirra, suffering from (unnamed) PTSD, evades her traumatic memories by avoiding what she calls “Memory Traps,” but when the Takers arrive in the forest, she must face her trauma and attempt to make a community of the Tree Folk if they’re to survive. Although Kirra’s struggles through trauma are presented with sympathy and realistically rendered, some characters’ choices are so patently foolish they baldly read like the plot devices they are. Additionally, much preparation goes into one line of defense while other obvious factors are completely ignored, further pushing the story’s credibility. Kirra is brown skinned, as is her first family; Tree Folk appear not to be racially homogenous; and the Takers are all gray skinned.

Uneven pacing and clunky writing undermine this examination of trauma and PTSD. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4847-7871-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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