A masterful look at loss and mourning wrapped up in a hilariously painful family vacation.

AN OCCASIONALLY HAPPY FAMILY

Nothing sounds exciting about this first family vacation since Mom died. And they can’t even bring the cat.

Thirteen-year-old Theo Ripley feels powerless about this trip and steels himself for the eight-hour drive. Deftly capturing the childhood torture of family road trips, Burke nails the hilarious dialogue between Theo; his 16-year-old sister, Laura; and their science teacher dad. They are headed to Texas’ Big Bend National Park in the middle of July—to camp. Theo prefers to appreciate nature from indoors. He also prefers drawing to dialogue and stares aimlessly out the window as Dad and Laura argue endlessly. Once at the barren and boulder-filled park, the family bounces from one disastrous mishap to the next, encountering a riotous cast of eye-opening characters who surprisingly unite them. Each short chapter provides a glimpse of the humor and pain caused by the lack of communication and unaddressed grief that burdens each family member. When a surprise visitor joins their vacation, the bottled-up grief spills over. With memorable characters and voices, realistic emotions, and an extra helping of humor, this title rocks. The Ripley family reads as White; names cue some diversity in the supporting cast.

A masterful look at loss and mourning wrapped up in a hilariously painful family vacation. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-32567-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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