Real geeks wouldn’t have it any other way.

RANDOMS

From the Randoms series , Vol. 1

Part of Spider-Man’s appeal is that he’s a geek; people love him because he gets picked on as much as any nerdy teenager. Zeke Reynolds follows in the same tradition.

As the story opens, Zeke is being smacked in the head by a bully, immediately establishing sympathy. Even when Zeke travels into space as one of the first people to make contact with extraterrestrial life, the other kids from Earth avoid him at all costs. And when he defeats an attacking warship, he’s threatened with an intergalactic trial. Like Spider-Man, Zeke has superpowers, but his power is his geekiness. When he has to come up with strategy, he says, “Our lives, at this point, depend on a scheme I’m stealing from Star Trek Two.” He goes into battle wearing Firefly suspenders. Zeke is a terrific character, and Liss is also, clearly and joyfully, a geek—occasionally to the book’s detriment. Page after page is spent on discussions of nanites and their effect on the human body, nearly shutting down the story. (There’s even a flowchart.) But the aliens feel genuinely—and wonderfully—alien, with fully developed cultures and biology. Like the best Marvel comics, the book ends on a note of tragedy. This is jarring, but it gives Zeke’s victories a feeling of depth and realism.

Real geeks wouldn’t have it any other way. (Science fiction. 10-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1779-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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A compassionate glimpse of mental illness accessible to a broad audience. (Fiction. 10-14)

THE SCIENCE OF BREAKABLE THINGS

A middle school story in which parental depression manifests itself in absence.

Natalie’s vivacious botanist mother (who’s white) has retreated from life, leaving her therapist husband (who’s biracial) and daughter to fill the gaping hole she has left. With the help of an egg-drop contest and a scientific-method project, Natalie explores breakable things and the nurturing of hope. Narrating in first-person, the mixed-race seventh-grader (1/4 Korean and 3/4 white) is drawn to her mother’s book, titled How to Grow A Miracle. It reminds her of when her mother was excited by science and questions and life. With a STEM-inspired chapter framework and illustrated with Neonakis’ scientific drawings, Keller’s debut novel uses the scientific method to unpack the complex emotions depression can cause. Momentum builds over nine months as Natalie observes, questions, researches, experiments, and analyzes clues to her mother’s state of mind. Providing support and some comic relief are her two sidekicks, Dari (a smart Indian immigrant boy) and Twig (Natalie’s wealthy, white best friend). The diversity of the characters provides identity and interest, not issue or plotline. Tension peaks at the egg-drop contest, as the three friends plan to use the prize winnings to bring Natalie’s mother back to life with a gift of a rare cobalt blue orchid. Paralleling their scientific progress, Natalie reluctantly experiences her first visits to talk therapy, slowly opening like a tight bloom.

A compassionate glimpse of mental illness accessible to a broad audience. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1566-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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