A well-knit debut generously stocked with chills, thrills, and chancy exploits.

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MONSTROUS DEVICES

A young British teenager’s ordinary world takes a sudden spin to the dark side with the arrival of an antique toy robot that turns out to conceal a terrible, and terrifying, power.

Hardly has Alex unpacked the robot sent by his grandfather than he cuts himself on a sharp edge so that a little blood seeps into its workings. Cue the weirdness, starting with a homework assignment he doesn’t remember finishing and a bully who inexplicably beats a sudden retreat. It quickly escalates into a headlong flight with his grandad and a running fight with a squad of varied but uniformly scary automatons fueled themselves by blood. What’s up? Alex’s robot, it turns out, was crafted to hide a tablet inscribed with the secret name of God that Rabbi Loew used to animate his legendary golem…and nefarious parties are out to revive the clay monster for—well, nothing good. Confused, terror-stricken, and inarticulate throughout, Alex comes off as a pale character next to his creepy adversaries and, in particular, his dapper, glib, secretive, martially adroit, scene-stealing grandfather. Still, as events move along apace, he proves surprisingly resourceful. Love tucks in plenty of icky bits, along with cinematic set pieces and hairbreadth escapes, and he strews enough tantalizing hints about his protagonist’s murky past to excite interest in sequels. The human cast presents white.

A well-knit debut generously stocked with chills, thrills, and chancy exploits. (Horror/suspense/fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-451-47858-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise.

WHERE SHE FELL

A teenager battles social anxiety disorder and giant bugs in a subterranean world.

When two bad friends to whom she’s been clinging trick her into venturing into the ominously named Drowners Swamp, Eliza falls into a sinkhole that leads into a seemingly endless cave system. Being an avid fan of caves and geology, Eliza is as enthralled as she is terrified—a mix of emotions that remains unaltered as she encounters a small community of likewise trapped people surviving on a diet of outsized spiders and cave insects. Weeks later she is captured (briefly, thanks to a conveniently timed spider attack) by bioluminescent humanoids. All the while, despite having been in therapy for years, she continually denigrates herself for panic attacks and freezing up around others. Her emotional reactions take up so much of the narrative, in fact, that for all its lurid, occasionally gruesome turns, it’s hard to tell whether character or action drives the story more. In the event, Eliza is surprised to find reserves of inner strength—and a chance at personal transformation—through her ordeal. The first-person narration is punctuated with excerpts and sketches from Eliza’s journal. Except for one character with brown skin, the nonglowing cast defaults to white. Warring themes and elements give this outing a distinct feel of multiple stories yoked together by violence.

Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise. (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-23007-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Point/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world.

PARCHED

With severe drought, child enslavement, and multiple shootings of people and dogs, this slim volume isn’t for the faint of heart, though it repays those who soldier on.

In an unspecified African “place of dust and death,” in a story somewhere between realism and fable, Nandi the dog narrates an opening scene in which Sarel sees her parents gunned down. The gunmen, failing to find a water source, set the house afire and depart, leaving Sarel orphaned on her desert homestead. An underground grotto with a well sustains Sarel and her pack of dogs—fully family to her—while they recover from smoke inhalation and bullet wounds. In a nearby city, Musa sits in chains, taken outdoors only when gunmen (those who shot Sarel’s parents) need a dowser—Musa hears a buzz in his skull when water’s nearby. One generation ago, there were faucets and lawn sprinklers; now, gangs kill for a water bottle. When Musa escapes and Sarel’s well runs dry, the tale’s fablelike nature makes their meeting inevitable, even in the desert. The narration uses primarily Sarel’s and Musa’s perspectives, describing nature sparely and vividly. Thirst and heat are palpable as kids and dogs fight fatal dehydration. Occasionally, Nandi narrates, in broken English more distracting than doglike.

A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-97651-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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