Ten-year-old Jamie Jo never leaves home without her mama and her flyswatter. After watching a fictional movie character die from an allergic reaction, this daughter of a prosecutor and tone-deaf choir member fears bees, although she’s not allergic herself. Her life in rural Kentucky revolves around church, but she questions her faith when her mother is bullied out of the choir. However, it is restored when a damaging explosion before choir practice harms no one, as her absent mother had been its only punctual member. (In an author’s note, Payne explains that the strictly timed explosion was inspired by true events.) Jamie Jo demonstrates gradual growth in her small adventures with a new friend and her dog. Secondary characters are realistically flawed and memorable. While the quirky moments excel, Jamie Jo’s naïveté is unrealistic, even considering her sheltered upbringing. Conflicts are too neatly resolved, the voice meanders and didactic dialogue stunts this debut novel. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5344-8

Page Count: 167

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2008

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A disjointed yet sincere story about family, Judaism, and finding oneself.


Hannah is desperate to be Jewish.

Grandma Mimi, her mother’s mother, is Jewish, so according to Jewish law she must be too, right? Even if her White father, who was raised Catholic, and her nonreligious mother don’t seem to think so. When Hannah attends her best friend Shira’s bat mitzvah, she finally finds the place where she feels she belongs, and she decides to have her very own bat mitzvah. Unfortunately, her parents—especially her mother—vehemently disagree. So, Hannah schemes with Grandma Mimi and Aunt Yael, a rabbi and her mother’s estranged sister, to prepare for her own bat mitzvah. Hannah secretly learns Hebrew and studies her Torah portion in six months, and her rapid mastery of the language feels unrealistic. Her experience is an authentic portrayal of struggling to find oneself through religion even when parents may not be supportive. However, Hannah’s parents’ constant negativity about Judaism—her father frequently “jokes” in ways that read like microaggressions, and the context for her mother’s hostile comments is not revealed until the end—will be deeply uncomfortable for some readers, though the novel does end with a positive message of love and acceptance. The mix of prose, poetry, and recipes is original, but the execution leads to a disjointed and choppy read. Readers questioning their sense of belonging could find this to be exactly what they need.

A disjointed yet sincere story about family, Judaism, and finding oneself. (author's note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-38691-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Versify/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot.


In sixth grade, Izzy Mancini’s cozy, loving world falls apart.

She and her family have moved out of the cottage she grew up in. Her mother has spent the summer on Block Island instead of at home with Izzy. Her father has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan partially paralyzed and traumatized. The only people she can count on are Zelda and Piper, her best friends since kindergarten—that is, until the Haidary family moves into the upstairs apartment. At first, Izzy resents the new guests from Afghanistan even though she knows she should be grateful that Dr. Haidary saved her father’s life. But despite her initial resistance (which manifests at times as racism), as Izzy gets to know Sitara, the Haidarys’ daughter, she starts to question whether Zelda and Piper really are her friends for forever—and whether she has the courage to stand up for Sitara against the people she loves. Ferruolo weaves a rich setting, fully immersing readers in the largely white, coastal town of Seabury, Rhode Island. Disappointingly, the story resolves when Izzy convinces her classmates to accept Sitara by revealing the Haidarys’ past as American allies, a position that put them in so much danger that they had to leave home. The idea that Sitara should be embraced only because her family supported America, rather than simply because she is a human being, significantly undermines the purported message of tolerance for all.

A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-30909-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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