A commendable YA novel with thriller, romance and coming-of-age elements in one neat package.

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At just 16, Sasha, a CIA agent formerly with the FBI, employs her unique skill in this absorbing YA political espionage thriller.

Sasha was born with a remarkable gift—or curse, depending on one’s perspective. People can’t help but speak their thoughts when in her presence, and a simple question from her lips can make suspects spill the truth. After bouncing as a child from one foster home to another, Sasha finds some security with Chelsea Tanner, an FBI agent who’s both her professional partner and guardian. Sasha is crushed when, on the eve of her 16th birthday, she’s forced to leave Chelsea and the United States to go to Brussels to infiltrate an international graffiti terrorist group. Residing with CIA agent Porter Jennings, Sasha becomes friends with his teenage daughter, Viviane. Later, she’s surprised when Viviane leads her into the lap of her quarry, Kid Aert. As Sasha deals with the novelties of friendship and romance—and above all, acceptance—she’s forced to choose between loyalty to her new friends and the job she has been sent to do. Sasha’s tough exterior doesn’t fully mask her vulnerability, probably due to too many years of being labeled a “freak” by her peers and foster parents. Gray (Suddenly You, 2013, etc.), who also authored the Jane Austen Academy series as well as the Gentlemen Next Door series, doesn’t go to the dystopian lengths that have become commonplace in YA literature, nor does she rely on clichéd paranormal elements, other than Sasha’s “gift.” Indeed, the story is refreshing for its normalcy, recalling 1970s political espionage novels. Even Sasha’s prey possesses noble rationalizations, adding to her moral quandary. While Sasha achieves some personal and professional closure, the fate of her romance is left unresolved, hopefully to be continued in the series’ next entry.

A commendable YA novel with thriller, romance and coming-of-age elements in one neat package. 

Pub Date: Dec. 12, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Gray Life, LLC.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Penfold and Kaufman have outdone themselves in delivering a vital message in today’s political climate. Let’s hope more...

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ALL ARE WELCOME

A lively city school celebrates its diversity.

Front endpapers show adult caregivers walking their charges to school, the families a delightful mix that includes interracial, same-sex, and heterosexual couples as well as single caregivers; the rear endpapers assemble them again at the conclusion of a successful schoolwide evening potluck. In between, the rhyming verses focus on aspects of a typical school day, always ending with the titular phrase: “Time for lunch—what a spread! / A dozen different kinds of bread. / Pass it around till everyone’s fed. / All are welcome here.” Indeed, this school is diversity exemplified. Several kids point to their home countries on a world map, and some wear markers of their cultural or religious groups: There’s a girl in hijab, a boy wearing a Sikh patka, and a boy in a kippah. A rainbow of hair colors and skin tones is in evidence, and children with disabilities are also included: a blind boy, a girl in a wheelchair, and several kids with glasses. What is most wonderful, though, is the way they interact with one another without regard to their many differences. Kaufman’s acrylic, ink, crayon, collage, and Photoshop illustrations bring the many personalities in this school community to life. “You have a place here. / You have a space here. / You are welcome here.”

Penfold and Kaufman have outdone themselves in delivering a vital message in today’s political climate. Let’s hope more people, starting with this picture book’s audience, embrace it. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-57964-9

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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