This story’s as sweet as Della’s daddy’s watermelons but never saccharine.

WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW

Della painfully learns she can’t fix her schizophrenic mother, but maybe the 12-year-old can heal herself.

It’s bad enough that her daddy’s watermelons, the sweetest in all of North Carolina, are in jeopardy because of disease and drought, now Della’s mama is acting “crazy” again, hearing voices that warn her to keep germs away from Della and her baby sister, Mylie. The preteen knows that her mother’s schizophrenia surfaced when she was born and blames herself for her mother’s condition. Della’s also heard stories, passed down through her small town, about the miraculous powers of the honey from Miss Tabitha‘s backyard hives. Della makes it her mission to cure her mama and is certain Miss Tabitha’s honey will do the trick. Her first-person narration is realistically earthy without crossing into gritty. The math-loving girl witnesses some of her mother’s breakdowns and assumes most of Mylie’s care, but she’s still very much a child, not yet ready for the boys and kissing she hears come with seventh grade. As her mother’s health fades, Della finds she has other strong women in her life, including Miss Lorena, who’s experienced her own tragic loss. As Della accepts that her mother will always be sick (though never “crazy” anymore, and the text makes the term’s harmfulness quite clear throughout), Miss Tabitha’s honey does work, giving this spunky girl the resilience to overcome hardship. This debut novel gushes with Southern charm and depicts a warm, compassionate community where white families like Della’s and Miss Tabitha’s live amicably alongside black families like Miss Lorena’s.

This story’s as sweet as Della’s daddy’s watermelons but never saccharine. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-266586-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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Serious themes lightened by comedic touches; the strong emotional attachments will linger with readers.

ALWAYS, CLEMENTINE

Letters from a super-intelligent mouse to the beloved chimpanzee she leaves behind when she escapes a research lab.

Poignant, loving, and threaded through with the joy of discovery, the letters that Clementine mentally composes to her gentle simian friend tell a tale that takes suspenseful turns while affirming tolerance and self-expression. Thanks to tweaked DNA, she’s thinking about prime numbers the day she is born, helps other mice navigate mazes, and figures out how to escape her cage at night and sign with the lab’s sad, affectionate chimp, Rosie. When a guilt-ridden research assistant spirits her and another mouse subject out of the lab, leaving them in a nearby mailbox, she begins a series of reports to Rosie about the wonders of the outside world. Eleven-year-old Gus and his grandfather welcome the fugitives rather than turn them in for the large reward offered by the lab when the mousenapping is discovered. They create a storm of public protest against animal experimentation by televising a chess match in which Clementine beats five experienced human players simultaneously. Along with offering an optimistic, aspirational view of human nature as she winds the story to a joyous conclusion, Sorosiak tucks in a subplot around nonverbal Hamlet, the other mouse escapee, who constructs a model of Notre Dame out of wood chips, as food for further thought about different intelligences. The human cast seems to be mostly White.

Serious themes lightened by comedic touches; the strong emotional attachments will linger with readers. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2884-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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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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