LEONARDO’S SHADOW

OR, MY ASTONISHING LIFE AS LEONARDO DA VINCI’S SERVANT

It’s difficult to imagine who will be attracted to this plodding historical novel. Told in the first person by the young Giacomo, servant boy to the master artist, it lurches and rambles by turns. Curiously lacking in any sense of time or place, readers are told it’s 15th-century Milan, but little situates them there. Giacomo wants to learn to paint, but Leonardo will not teach him. There goodhearted female servant who mothers Giacomo eventually dies. In Grey’s hands, the artist comes across as a pompous windbag and completely uninteresting. There are blocks of text in which the author tells readers about mural and fresco painting or about mixing and making paint colors, but no feeling informs them and they do not advance the story. There is a plot of sorts involving alchemy and Giacomo’s unknown parentage, and his need to speed up Leonardo’s painting of the Last Supper, but it doesn’t amount to much. The author can’t even get Italian names quite right, using “da Vinci” as though it were Leonardo’s surname. Good idea, bad execution. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-4169-0543-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

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NEVER CRY ``ARP!''

Stories about the author's childhood adventures growing up in a small town, including one in which a delinquent dog tangles with a skunk, and two in which eminently satisfying tricks are played on pompous bullies. Others involve youthful disasters, accident-prone friends, eccentric townsfolk, camp-outs, and crazy schemes. McManus is a sort of Dave Barry for kids. His stories are not merely amusing: They are laugh-out-loud, stomach-clutching, tears-rolling-down-your-cheeks hilarious. Factual or not, the names of people display a backwoods Dickensian humor, from Rancid Crabtree, the old woodsman, to a friend, Retch Sweeney, and his two kid brothers, Erful and Verman, and to Miss Goosehart, a teacher at Delmore Blight Grade School. The humor is often broad, but its expression is matter-of-fact; McManus writes for those with good vocabularies who can read between the lines. Really comic stories that also treat this audience with intelligence are something of a rarity; this collection is as welcome as lemonade in the desert. (Short stories. 10-12)

Pub Date: May 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8050-4662-3

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996

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A cancer story that struggles to evoke either laughter or tears

THE BEST MEDICINE

This Irish import’s 12-year-old narrator laughs to keep from crying.

Aspiring to become a professional comedian, Philip Wright enjoys entertaining his single mother and biggest fan, Kathy, while daily attempting to capture the attention of his art-class crush, “dark-haired goddess” Lucy Wells. When Kathy bursts into tears and locks herself in the bathroom after one of his jokes, Philip thinks he’s lost his touch. Prodded by her best friend, Kathy finally tells Philip that she has breast cancer that will require surgery, chemo, and radiation. Philip is initially enraged at how much this news will affect his world, never mind the impossibility of saying “breast” to his friends and teachers. When he finally faces the reality that he could lose his mom, Philip starts behaving like she matters. This novel has a rather slow beginning, with humor that feels too calculated to succeed, including an extended lisping riff, making fun of his Spanish best friend’s name (Angel, which Philip shortens to “Ang”), and the occasional reference to poo. The author also fails to explain how this family suffers no economic hardships while its only breadwinner cannot work. Nevertheless, middle-grade readers will identify with Philip’s conflicts with his best friend and his antics to win Lucy’s affections. Ang aside, the primary characters all appear to be Irish; absence of racial cues indicates that the default is white.

A cancer story that struggles to evoke either laughter or tears . (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-55451-880-7

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Annick Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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