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Fans of quiet, nostalgic stories about team spirit should enjoy this debut effort.

A rambling girl learns the meaning of home.

Home-schooled Derby Christmas Clark, 11, lives and travels year-round with her jovial single dad and 7-year-old brother in their Rambler RV. Every summer the white family returns to the same rural Virginia town, where, outside the run-down baseball stadium, the family sells hamburgers and fries to fans of the local minor league team. Having made this stop for years, the Clarks know the town and its citizens well. Derby is especially close to African-American Marcus, seemingly her age, and grandmotherly June, the box-office manager, also African-American. This particular summer brings unhappy news. Derby resolves to fix problems and effect change with the aid of family and friends; in the process, she uncovers some long-untold secrets. The plot unfolds over the course of two weeks in an unspecified year in June, and Derby recounts events and her thoughts in first person. Her simile-laden voice is genial and humorous, but her aphorisms and epiphanies about herself and others often seem too grown-up and self-aware. While Derby’s well-realized, other characters are drawn more superficially; some seem like stock types. Interpersonal relationships and the novel’s nostalgic sensibility evoke a cozy feel. The unoriginal plot—kid discovers family and home are wherever she is and galvanizes a whole town into helping a beloved neighbor—is satisfying, as is the pat happy ending.

Fans of quiet, nostalgic stories about team spirit should enjoy this debut effort. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-60201-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable.

A reward of $5,000,000 almost ruins everything for two seventh graders.

On a class trip to New York City, Felix and Benji find a wallet belonging to social media billionaire Laura Friendly. Benji, a well-off, chaotic kid with learning disabilities, swipes $20 from the wallet before they send it back to its owner. Felix, a poor, shy, rule-follower, reluctantly consents. So when Laura Friendly herself arrives to give them a reward for the returned wallet, she’s annoyed. To teach her larcenous helpers a lesson, Laura offers them a deal: a $20,000 college scholarship or slightly over $5 million cash—but with strings attached. The boys must spend all the money in 30 days, with legal stipulations preventing them from giving anything away, investing, or telling anyone about it. The glorious windfall quickly grows to become a chore and then a torment as the boys appear increasingly selfish and irresponsible to the adults in their lives. They rent luxury cars, hire a (wonderful) philosophy undergrad as a chauffeur, take their families to Disney World, and spend thousands on in-app game purchases. Yet, surrounded by hedonistically described piles of loot and filthy lucre, the boys long for simpler fundamentals. The absorbing spending spree reads like a fun family film, gleefully stuffed with the very opulence it warns against. Major characters are White.

Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable. (mathematical explanations) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-17525-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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