A smart, peppery, action-packed plot teams up with playful, astute characters.

THE PRINCESS AND THE PAGE

A magical pen leads 12-year-old white Keira Harding on a dark fairy-tale adventure.

During a robbery at her home, Keira runs to her parents’ bedroom to find a phone and call for help. Instead, she finds a glowing antique pen and, in desperation, writes a list of what to do. To her amazement, everything on the list appears to come true. Keira keeps the pen (hiding her possession of it from her parents) and uses it to write a fairy tale for a story contest—in direct contravention of her mother’s seemingly unreasonable command that she not write any stories ever. When her story wins the contest and Keira, her mother, and Bella, Keira’s brown-skinned, black-haired best friend, go to France to stay for a week in the Château de Chenonceau as the prize, the girls are thrilled—at first. At the castle, strange events transpire, and Keira cannot help but notice that they have an eerie resemblance to the fairy tale she wrote. Keira’s first-person, present-tense narration, with a close eye to detail, oscillates between mature observations and lighthearted girl-stuff. It works. The story’s overarching theme of the power of words is timely and poignant—but the book’s cover art imparts a clichéd Disney-esque look that may turn off more serious readers.

A smart, peppery, action-packed plot teams up with playful, astute characters. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-92409-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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