A flawed debut—but a promising one.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Abby, a, rural Wisconsin preteen with a passion for astronomy, concocts a secret plan to help her sister Blair, 18, who suffers from a life-threatening eating disorder.

Middle sister Jade, 16, is preoccupied with friends and a summer job; Blair’s in residential treatment while their parents ready the family’s rustic resort to host media and sightseers for the forthcoming solar eclipse. Isolated, Abby, whose besties have inexplicably dropped her, attracts the interest of renowned astronomer Leo Lacamoire, a visitor who recruits her to dig up a time capsule containing a valuable telescope stolen from him. Abby agrees, provided Leo promises to introduce her to his editor, who Abby hopes will publish Planet Pirates, a collection of stories she’s written and Blair’s illustrated. Despite long-laid plans to view the eclipse with her astronomy-teacher dad, Abby realizes her only chance to dig up the time capsule unobserved is during the event. Into this plot vignettes from the past are interwoven in reverse chronology, a technique that brings Blair’s story—the novel’s strength—into heartbreaking relief. A perfectionist whose ballet hopes were stoked and manipulated by a ruthless teacher, appealing Blair is entirely convincing. But the plot’s unlikely resolution rests on secondary characters’ implausible, sketchy motivations—not those of the sisters readers care about. The subplot involving Abby, Leo, and the time capsule not only fails to persuade, it undermines what does. Abby’s family and Leo all present white.

A flawed debut—but a promising one. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291267-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy.

ALMOST SUPER

Inventively tweaking a popular premise, Jensen pits two Incredibles-style families with superpowers against each other—until a new challenge rises to unite them.

The Johnsons invariably spit at the mere mention of their hated rivals, the Baileys. Likewise, all Baileys habitually shake their fists when referring to the Johnsons. Having long looked forward to getting a superpower so that he too can battle his clan’s nemeses, Rafter Bailey is devastated when, instead of being able to fly or something else cool, he acquires the “power” to strike a match on soft polyester. But when hated classmate Juanita Johnson turns up newly endowed with a similarly bogus power and, against all family tradition, they compare notes, it becomes clear that something fishy is going on. Both families regard themselves as the heroes and their rivals as the villains. Someone has been inciting them to fight each other. Worse yet, that someone has apparently developed a device that turns real superpowers into silly ones. Teaching themselves on the fly how to get past their prejudice and work together, Rafter, his little brother, Benny, and Juanita follow a well-laid-out chain of clues and deductions to the climactic discovery of a third, genuinely nefarious family, the Joneses, and a fiendishly clever scheme to dispose of all the Baileys and Johnsons at once. Can they carry the day?

A solid debut: fluent, funny and eminently sequel-worthy. (Adventure. 10-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-220961-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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