A coming-of-age tale with sufficient heart, an appealing narrator and an unusual conflict combine for a fine read. (Fiction....

IVY IN THE SHADOWS

When Ivy’s newly divorced mother takes in a young boarder, the 12-year-old strongly disapproves.

Ivy’s mom joins a local church and then takes in Caleb, also 12 and the son of missionaries. Likable enough, he does everything he can to please, including being exceptionally helpful in entertaining Ivy’s energetic kindergarten-aged younger brother, JJ, a child she’s too-often tasked with mothering. In a believable subplot, Ivy’s best friend has taken on a lot of unpleasant new behaviors in an effort to be accepted by the populars at their school. Ivy is torn between friendship-ensuring compliance with her unreasonable demands and a normal urge to draw the line somewhere. Meanwhile, Caleb tells JJ stories about difficult living conditions in Haiti, but Ivy, in the face of seemingly strong contrary evidence, decides he’s making up the tales. She’s such a grounded, generally sensible kid that her irrational rejections of Caleb feel forced and frustratingly out of character, just as is his unwillingness to set her straight. Ivy’s eavesdropping on her mother’s conversations provides a needed humorous counterpoint to the real issue she’s encountering: the need to take on too much adult responsibility at a time when she’s not quite mature enough to handle it.

A coming-of-age tale with sufficient heart, an appealing narrator and an unusual conflict combine for a fine read. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-33566-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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A compassionate glimpse of mental illness accessible to a broad audience. (Fiction. 10-14)

THE SCIENCE OF BREAKABLE THINGS

A middle school story in which parental depression manifests itself in absence.

Natalie’s vivacious botanist mother (who’s white) has retreated from life, leaving her therapist husband (who’s biracial) and daughter to fill the gaping hole she has left. With the help of an egg-drop contest and a scientific-method project, Natalie explores breakable things and the nurturing of hope. Narrating in first-person, the mixed-race seventh-grader (1/4 Korean and 3/4 white) is drawn to her mother’s book, titled How to Grow A Miracle. It reminds her of when her mother was excited by science and questions and life. With a STEM-inspired chapter framework and illustrated with Neonakis’ scientific drawings, Keller’s debut novel uses the scientific method to unpack the complex emotions depression can cause. Momentum builds over nine months as Natalie observes, questions, researches, experiments, and analyzes clues to her mother’s state of mind. Providing support and some comic relief are her two sidekicks, Dari (a smart Indian immigrant boy) and Twig (Natalie’s wealthy, white best friend). The diversity of the characters provides identity and interest, not issue or plotline. Tension peaks at the egg-drop contest, as the three friends plan to use the prize winnings to bring Natalie’s mother back to life with a gift of a rare cobalt blue orchid. Paralleling their scientific progress, Natalie reluctantly experiences her first visits to talk therapy, slowly opening like a tight bloom.

A compassionate glimpse of mental illness accessible to a broad audience. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1566-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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