A promising plot but a cursory execution.

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THE STRAYS LIKE US

Foster care may lead to a new life, but it can also lead to a new outlook on life.

In one day, Philadelphia 12-year-old Winifred’s life changes when she is assigned to live with Margery in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Fred is in the foster system because her mother, an addict, was caught stealing prescription medication from the pharmacy where she worked as a janitor. While at Margery’s, Fred develops an affinity for Toby, an abused dog that belongs to Margery’s hostile, gun-wielding neighbor, Mr. Carder. When Mr. Carder has an accident that requires extensive hospitalization, Fred and Margery take in Toby and begin to rehabilitate him. Fred also begins a tentative friendship with Ardelia “Lardvark” Lark, a big girl who is the target of school bullies. Galante packs a lot into a relatively short story, and the plot suffers as a result. The majority of the characters—Fred included—feel two-dimensional as they leap from life-changing moment to life-changing moment. As guide/foster mother/wise-woman supreme, Margery is the most nuanced, but as a single-parent foster placement in a county at three removes from Philadelphia, her inclusion in the story requires astute readers to suspend a lot of disbelief. Toby’s arc is equally improbable (if unsurprising), as he transforms from a wild, underfed, balding, and abused yard dog into a handsome, thick-coated pet. Equally disheartening is the lack of diversity in this default-white tale.

A promising plot but a cursory execution. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-04300-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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DRAMA

From award winner Telgemeier (Smile, 2010), a pitch-perfect graphic novel portrayal of a middle school musical, adroitly capturing the drama both on and offstage.

Seventh-grader Callie Marin is over-the-moon to be on stage crew again this year for Eucalyptus Middle School’s production of Moon over Mississippi. Callie's just getting over popular baseball jock and eighth-grader Greg, who crushed her when he left Callie to return to his girlfriend, Bonnie, the stuck-up star of the play. Callie's healing heart is quickly captured by Justin and Jesse Mendocino, the two very cute twins who are working on the play with her. Equally determined to make the best sets possible with a shoestring budget and to get one of the Mendocino boys to notice her, the immensely likable Callie will find this to be an extremely drama-filled experience indeed. The palpably engaging and whip-smart characterization ensures that the charisma and camaraderie run high among those working on the production. When Greg snubs Callie in the halls and misses her reference to Guys and Dolls, one of her friends assuredly tells her, "Don't worry, Cal. We’re the cool kids….He's the dork." With the clear, stylish art, the strongly appealing characters and just the right pinch of drama, this book will undoubtedly make readers stand up and cheer.

Brava!  (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-32698-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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