Timely, engaging, and full of heart.

DRESS CODED

A spirited eighth grader and her friends leverage the power of social networking to fight their school’s oppressive dress code.

Students are furious when the class campout is canceled because fellow student Olivia contravened the dress code. That changes after Molly persuades Olivia to tell the embarrassing story on her new podcast. Going public at first worsens her mortification; both girls are targeted by bullies. Then, as Molly’s podcast followers mount, others post photos of dress-code shaming on Instagram, revealing the harm caused by policing girls’ appearances while ignoring social, cultural, and economic realities that govern their lives and clothing choices. Talia’s hair (she’s Trinidadian) triggers the dress code. While Molly’s pre-pubertal figure is ridiculed by an obnoxious classmate (Megan, with cerebral palsy, knows how that feels), her violations of the dress code are ignored, but girls with curvier bodies are repeatedly sanctioned. When district administrators ignore their petition to end dress coding, students strategize next steps. Molly, a refreshingly average student gifted with empathy, has a brother who deals vaping paraphernalia, stressing her white middle-class family financially and emotionally. Diverse secondary characters include several with disabilities. Beyond code inequities, everyday issues like family stress and active-shooter lockdowns complicate the lives of these appealing characters. Vividly conveyed, their almost-palpable adolescent angst is at once uniquely contemporary and timeless. Readers will root for them as they discover that taking action makes an effective antidote.

Timely, engaging, and full of heart. (Fiction. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-1643-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A compassionate glimpse of mental illness accessible to a broad audience. (Fiction. 10-14)

THE SCIENCE OF BREAKABLE THINGS

A middle school story in which parental depression manifests itself in absence.

Natalie’s vivacious botanist mother (who’s white) has retreated from life, leaving her therapist husband (who’s biracial) and daughter to fill the gaping hole she has left. With the help of an egg-drop contest and a scientific-method project, Natalie explores breakable things and the nurturing of hope. Narrating in first-person, the mixed-race seventh-grader (1/4 Korean and 3/4 white) is drawn to her mother’s book, titled How to Grow A Miracle. It reminds her of when her mother was excited by science and questions and life. With a STEM-inspired chapter framework and illustrated with Neonakis’ scientific drawings, Keller’s debut novel uses the scientific method to unpack the complex emotions depression can cause. Momentum builds over nine months as Natalie observes, questions, researches, experiments, and analyzes clues to her mother’s state of mind. Providing support and some comic relief are her two sidekicks, Dari (a smart Indian immigrant boy) and Twig (Natalie’s wealthy, white best friend). The diversity of the characters provides identity and interest, not issue or plotline. Tension peaks at the egg-drop contest, as the three friends plan to use the prize winnings to bring Natalie’s mother back to life with a gift of a rare cobalt blue orchid. Paralleling their scientific progress, Natalie reluctantly experiences her first visits to talk therapy, slowly opening like a tight bloom.

A compassionate glimpse of mental illness accessible to a broad audience. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1566-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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