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THE COLOSSUS OF ROADS

Colossally cool.

Los Angeles’ infamous traffic scene is a hot mess, and it’s up to 11-year-old Rick Rusek to fix it.

Deep in the San Fernando Valley lives the audacious young problem-solver, poring over maps of LA’s highways and streets to diagnose a way to unclog the county’s traffic woes. Ironically, Rick can’t bear car trips due to an unrelenting case of motion sickness. Just ask his chatty stomach, a cheeseburger-obsessed conversationalist that helps Rick with unknotting the trickiest of ideas. Rick’s chats with his stomach offer one source of reassurance after he finds out that his parents’ catering business, Smotch (roots: Polish food), risks falling into financial troubles due in part to LA’s notorious traffic flow. Convinced that his Snarl Solutions could help alleviate his parents’ problems if only someone in power would listen, Rick joins his neighbor’s Girl Scout group, led by a celebrated street artist with familial ties to the head of LA’s Department of Transportation. Can the “Colossus of Roads” save his parents’ business and lead LA toward a brighter future? Uss’ slice of whimsy teleports readers to the smog-filled, congested streets of Los Angeles and gives them a hearty appreciation for big, improbable ideas. Thanks to a fun cast of eclectic characters, the author manages to temper the story’s more peculiar moments, but it’s her soft mix of humor and insight that steals the spotlight. Though Rick’s neighbors are Latinx, the book’s default seems to be white.

Colossally cool. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4450-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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FAKER

Glitzy glimpses of life on the make, lightened by a focus on alternatives rather than consequences.

A con man’s son yearns for a different way of life.

Having helped his single dad fleece wealthy marks since kindergarten, Trey is adept at spotting their rich offspring in each new school he attends and cultivating them until the time comes for a quick getaway. Now that he’s 12, though, the urge to make real friends and put down some roots has become insistent—particularly since he’s drawn to Kaylee, a new classmate in his latest middle school. How can he convince his dad, who’s in the midst of luring local investors into a fantastically lucrative scheme involving a fictive electric car, that it’s time to bag the family profession and settle down? Korman goes more for ironic humor than the physical or stand-up sort in this book, as shown by Trey’s enrollment in an ethics class that forces him into some decidedly hypocritical stances. Much like Trey himself, instant new bestie Logan and his parents turn out to be not at all who they seem. And though there are no bullies or real baddies in the cast on the way to the story’s rosy but implausible resolution, Trey’s malign, high-strung, and wildly reckless huckster of a little sister from hell definitely adds both conflict and suspense to this provocative outing. Main characters read white.

Glitzy glimpses of life on the make, lightened by a focus on alternatives rather than consequences. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: July 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781338826753

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2024

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CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

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. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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