Simplistic, but a reluctant reader–friendly fast read with positive messages about hard work and being a good teammate.

THE EXTRA POINT

From the Gridiron series

A high school senior cut from girls’ soccer becomes the football team’s new kicker.

Rather than making the varsity team with her best friend (hijabi and star player Aisha), Riley (depicted on the cover as white) finds herself cut from the JV team to make room for younger players. She has the strongest corner kick but isn’t fast enough. She pulls out of her disappointed funk when a call goes out for an open tryout for the football team’s kicker position and—after some practice adjusting kicking mechanics—she goes for it and makes the team. While a girl trying out initially surprises players and coach alike, the characters are all supportive of her, with the exception of bullying star defensive player Sean. Athletic but not a prodigy, Riley struggles with unevenness; sometimes she performs well, but she’s still picking up the technique for consistency. After some tough games—losses for which Sean holds her responsible—she must find her own confidence to play as well as she can. The bullying storyline is never directly addressed or concluded; rather, the focus is on Riley’s internal conflict. Diversity’s present in character names; aside from Aisha, the other prominent secondary character is Chava Gutierrez, the supportive quarterback. Three other titles in the Gridiron series publish simultaneously: False Start, by Paul Hoblin, and The Late Hit and Showdown, both by K.R. Coleman.

Simplistic, but a reluctant reader–friendly fast read with positive messages about hard work and being a good teammate. (Fiction. 10-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5124-3981-6

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Darby Creek

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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