THAT’S LIFE, SAMARA BROOKS

Ridiculous theories of science and the paranormal destroy a promising story of nature vs. nurture. Samara Brooks heads a gambling ring in the cafeteria of her middle school. When she’s caught, she strikes a bargain with the principal: He won’t call her parents, and she’ll conduct a science experiment with the school’s never-used electron microscope, comparing her DNA to that of her friend and class president Lily Frederick. If Samara’s DNA is structurally identical to Lily’s, this will prove that she’s not a bad person. Weirdness ensues when classmate Nathan Weiss spots a pattern in Samara’s DNA that resembles clues to a 600-year-old extraterrestrial mystery. The multiple plots of gambling, adoption, aliens, religion and politics never jell. Plotlines are introduced then abandoned before their resolution. Even thinner than the plot are the characterizations. The teens are indistinct, and the adults are one-sided. A few funny, touching moments cannot save this convoluted mess. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-73434-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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SMILE

Telgemeier has created an utterly charming graphic memoir of tooth trauma, first crushes and fickle friends, sweetly reminiscent of Judy Blume’s work. One night, Raina trips and falls after a Girl Scout meeting, knocking out her two front teeth. This leads to years of painful surgeries, braces, agonizing root canals and other oral atrocities. Her friends offer little solace through this trying ordeal, spending more of their time teasing than comforting her. After years of these girls’ constant belittling, Raina branches out and finds her own voice and a new group of friends. Young girls will relate to her story, and her friend-angst is palpable. Readers should not overlook this seemingly simply drawn work; the strong writing and emotionally expressive characters add an unexpected layer of depth. As an afterword, the author includes a photo of her smiling, showing off the results of all of the years of pain she endured. Irresistible, funny and touching—a must read for all teenage girls, whether en-braced or not. (Graphic memoir. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-545-13205-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bantam Discovery

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A bone-chilling tale not to be ignored by the universe.

PRISONER B-3087

If Anne Frank had been a boy, this is the story her male counterpart might have told. At least, the very beginning of this historical novel reads as such.

It is 1939, and Yanek Gruener is a 10-year old Jew in Kraków when the Nazis invade Poland. His family is forced to live with multiple other families in a tiny apartment as his beloved neighborhood of Podgórze changes from haven to ghetto in a matter of weeks. Readers will be quickly drawn into this first-person account of dwindling freedoms, daily humiliations and heart-wrenching separations from loved ones. Yet as the story darkens, it begs the age-old question of when and how to introduce children to the extremes of human brutality. Based on the true story of the life of Jack Gruener, who remarkably survived not just one, but 10 different concentration camps, this is an extraordinary, memorable and hopeful saga told in unflinching prose. While Gratz’s words and early images are geared for young people, and are less gory than some accounts, Yanek’s later experiences bear a closer resemblance to Elie Wiesel’s Night than more middle-grade offerings, such as Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars. It may well support classroom work with adult review first.

A bone-chilling tale not to be ignored by the universe. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: March 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-545-45901-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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