Fantasy, history, folklore, memorable characters, and even a hint of humor converge for a great read.

THE CRYSTAL RIBBON

This hopeful coming-of-age story weaves together historical facts and spiritual/cultural beliefs to tell a tale of empowerment from the perspective of a poor, young female—one of the lowliest members of society in medieval China.

Using fitting metaphors and similes—“a metal wok as big as a wheel cart” and “fuzz…as curly as tea leaves”—debut author Lim effectively transports readers to a rural village in 1102 China. Jing, 11, an illiterate but intelligent farmer’s daughter, despises her name because her peers make fun of it. Her name, Jing (crystal), is a homonym for jing, animal spirits in the process of transforming into deities. However, Jing has bigger things to worry about when she’s married off to become a 3-year-old boy’s “wife” and, more realistically, nursemaid. Over the next few years, Jing endures much hardship. She is physically and emotionally tortured by her in-laws and eventually sold to a house of courtesans. Fortunately, Jing manages to escape and returns to her home village, but not without the help of several jing. As she and her companions adventure together, Jing realizes her destiny is intrinsically intertwined with the Great Golden Huli Jing, her village’s guardian fox jing. Although some of the dialogue and action may seem uncharacteristic of the time and culture, they are no distraction. Lim eloquently relates Jing’s journey from blindly obedient little girl to strong, confident young woman. In the end, Jing knows exactly what she wants, follows through, and finds refuge.

Fantasy, history, folklore, memorable characters, and even a hint of humor converge for a great read. (Historical fantasy. 9-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-76703-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when...

ASHES TO ASHEVILLE

Two sisters make an unauthorized expedition to their former hometown and in the process bring together the two parts of their divided family.

Dooley packs plenty of emotion into this eventful road trip, which takes place over the course of less than 24 hours. Twelve-year-old Ophelia, nicknamed Fella, and her 16-year-old sister, Zoey Grace, aka Zany, are the daughters of a lesbian couple, Shannon and Lacy, who could not legally marry. The two white girls squabble and share memories as they travel from West Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, where Zany is determined to scatter Mama Lacy’s ashes in accordance with her wishes. The year is 2004, before the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and the girls have been separated by hostile, antediluvian custodial laws. Fella’s present-tense narration paints pictures not just of the difficulties they face on the trip (a snowstorm, car trouble, and an unlikely thief among them), but also of their lives before Mama Lacy’s illness and of the ways that things have changed since then. Breathless and engaging, Fella’s distinctive voice is convincingly childlike. The conversations she has with her sister, as well as her insights about their relationship, likewise ring true. While the girls face serious issues, amusing details and the caring adults in their lives keep the tone relatively light.

Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when Fella’s family figures out how to come together in a new way . (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-16504-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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