A timely, introspective whodunit with a lot of heart.

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IT WASN'T ME

Six seventh-graders in small-town Massachusetts reluctantly spend school vacation week participating in a restorative-practice justice circle in hopes of identifying a vandal.

Amateur photographer Theo is the victim of a hate crime—his self-portraits in the student gallery defaced with “scribbled threats [and] gay slurs” and followed by a seemingly related incident in the darkroom—yet none of the five students who were in the gallery at the time admit culpability. A “non-horrible” teacher brings Theo and the five suspects together in a radical approach to conflict resolution, reminding them that “all of us are fighting unseen battles.” Told primarily through Theo’s first-person present-tense perspective, punctuated by daily assessments completed by his classmates, the book resists casting any one character as the obvious perpetrator. In true Breakfast Club fashion, the time spent together is sometimes hilarious and sometimes tragic, and it leaves secrets revealed—one student recently lost a sibling, several are navigating cultural expectations and stereotypes, Theo’s dad split last year—and intimate connections forged. Fans of Levy’s Fletcher Family series about two white dads and their adopted sons will recognize Jax Fletcher. Of the five suspects, Jax and Andre are African-American, while Alice Shu appears Asian, and Molly and Erik are identified as white along with Theo. Both refreshingly and frustratingly, Theo’s sexual orientation is never made explicit; the text emphasizes the impact of the harassment rather than the relevance of its content.

A timely, introspective whodunit with a lot of heart. (Fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6643-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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THE ONE AND ONLY BOB

Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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Moving and poetic.

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PAX

A motherless boy is forced to abandon his domesticated fox when his father decides to join soldiers in an approaching war.

Twelve-year-old Peter found his loyal companion, Pax, as an orphaned kit while still grieving his own mother’s death. Peter’s difficult and often harsh father said he could keep the fox “for now” but five years later insists the boy leave Pax by the road when he takes Peter to his grandfather’s house, hundreds of miles away. Peter’s journey back to Pax and Pax’s steadfastness in waiting for Peter’s return result in a tale of survival, intrinsic connection, and redemption. The battles between warring humans in the unnamed conflict remain remote, but the oncoming wave of deaths is seen through Pax’s eyes as woodland creatures are blown up by mines. While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes, Peter breaks his foot and must learn to trust a seemingly eccentric woman named Vola who battles her own ghosts of war. Alternating chapters from the perspectives of boy and fox are perfectly paced and complementary. Only Peter, Pax, Vola, and three of Pax’s fox companions are named, conferring a spare, fablelike quality. Every moment in the graceful, fluid narrative is believable. Klassen’s cover art has a sense of contained, powerful stillness. (Interior illustrations not seen.)

Moving and poetic. (Animal fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-237701-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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