A fast, positive, athletically aspirational read.

THE FASTEST FINISH

From the Junior Ninja Champion series , Vol. 2

The characters from The Competition Begins (2018) face choices and unexpected curveballs along the path to the Junior Ninja Champion finals.

The premiere episode of the reality TV competition is such a hit that the producers decide to add a twist. There will be one more round of semifinals, a wildcard episode, which will send up to 10 new competitors to the finals. Hypercompetitive sports superstar Ty Santiago’s furious—as an alternate, he’s not eligible for another try at one of those new spots. He’s quite grumpy when an aspiring wildcard joins the team at the kid-oriented gym his parents own: Noah Dhawan, a dancer with hidden motives. Despite Ty’s hostility and Izzy’s indifference, Noah (supported enthusiastically by Mackenzie) progresses well using his dancer athleticism and balance against the obstacles (described efficiently in the compact text). As the finals bear down on the cast, Izzy must make a choice between friendship and popularity or being a responsible competitor, and Ty’s in the uncomfortable position of needing something bad to happen to someone in order to compete. When it comes down to it, though, these are good, maturing kids who make good choices. Of the central characters, implied-Latinx Ty, black Kevin, and biracial (Indian/white) Noah balance Izzy, Mackenzie, and JJ, all default white; competing teams display a fair amount of diversity as well. The ending notes the show’s renewal for another season, prompting another installment.

A fast, positive, athletically aspirational read. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-85901-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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An inspiring sports story all the way to the buzzer.

WE ARE FAMILY

Basketball is life in Lorain, Ohio.

A group of seventh graders have different reasons for joining Hoop Group, an elite youth basketball program. Jayden, who lives in a tiny, cramped house with his mother and grandmother, desperately needs the money playing for the NBA would bring. Chris’ uncle made it out of Lorain and into the NBA, but he doesn’t share his uncle’s skills and can’t quite live up to his father’s expectations. Tamika’s dad was Hoop Group’s coach before Parkinson’s disease put the team’s future in jeopardy; she has a lot to prove and dreams of being the next Pat Summitt. Dex and his hardworking single mom are struggling with poverty, but he just loves the game––especially the Cleveland Cavs. And Anthony, frankly, doesn’t have much of a choice; it was either join this character-building group or face expulsion from school. A makeshift team of preteens with a lot on their plates, they discover as much about themselves (and one another) off the court as they do on it. The authors present a convincing argument about the value of basketball beyond points on the board and big contracts. The characters’ dreams are relatable along with the book’s universally valuable emphasis on hard work and perseverance. But the specifics about what it takes to make it in basketball and the fast-paced on-court action provide something special for young fans of the game. Main characters read as Black.

An inspiring sports story all the way to the buzzer. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297109-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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