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Heartbreaking, riveting, beautifully written.

A sixth grader struggles with leaving the life he knows under Cuba’s oppressive communist regime.

In 1980, the Cuban government opened the port of Mariel, permitting those who could obtain visas and arrange for boat passage to emigrate. When Héctor was 5, his father was jailed for speaking out about the lack of freedom in Cuba; recently he was sent to the U.S. as part of a political exchange. But when his mother floats the possibility of reuniting with his father in Miami, Héctor doesn’t want to go. Despite the toll of living with constant fear and the uncomfortable need to keep up public appearance of support for Fidel Castro’s repressive policies, Héctor is ambivalent about leaving. He’s a math whiz on track to represent Cuba at the International Math Olympiad and wants to remain close to his friends and Abuela—whose status as a delegate to Cuba’s National Assembly enables her to confer privileges on Héctor’s family, from Swiss chocolate to supplies beyond the meager government rations afforded everyone else. But everything changes when a betrayal leads to an act of repudiation in which a mob of neighbors go to Héctor’s house to accuse the family of being gusanos, or traitors. Following a tragedy, nothing is left for Héctor and his family but to painfully wait for their exit visas. What comes next is a suspenseful, emotional quest for freedom, fraught with danger and deception, that will keep pages turning.

Heartbreaking, riveting, beautifully written. (Historical fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-37279-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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

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

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. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable.

A reward of $5,000,000 almost ruins everything for two seventh graders.

On a class trip to New York City, Felix and Benji find a wallet belonging to social media billionaire Laura Friendly. Benji, a well-off, chaotic kid with learning disabilities, swipes $20 from the wallet before they send it back to its owner. Felix, a poor, shy, rule-follower, reluctantly consents. So when Laura Friendly herself arrives to give them a reward for the returned wallet, she’s annoyed. To teach her larcenous helpers a lesson, Laura offers them a deal: a $20,000 college scholarship or slightly over $5 million cash—but with strings attached. The boys must spend all the money in 30 days, with legal stipulations preventing them from giving anything away, investing, or telling anyone about it. The glorious windfall quickly grows to become a chore and then a torment as the boys appear increasingly selfish and irresponsible to the adults in their lives. They rent luxury cars, hire a (wonderful) philosophy undergrad as a chauffeur, take their families to Disney World, and spend thousands on in-app game purchases. Yet, surrounded by hedonistically described piles of loot and filthy lucre, the boys long for simpler fundamentals. The absorbing spending spree reads like a fun family film, gleefully stuffed with the very opulence it warns against. Major characters are White.

Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable. (mathematical explanations) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-17525-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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