THE BARREN GROUNDS

From the Misewa Saga series , Vol. 1

This middle-grade fantasy deftly and compellingly centers Indigenous culture.

Two uprooted Cree children find themselves in a dreamlike adventure in this series opener.

The edginess 13-year-old Morgan feels runs deep. As a First Nations kid whose whole life has been lived in one White foster home after another, she feels little reason to get excited about anything. Two months in to her new foster home placement, she inherits a new foster brother, Eli, a young Cree boy who spends his time quietly drawing in his sketchbook. After a blowup with their earnestly well-intentioned White foster parents, Morgan and Eli shelter themselves in the attic, where a drawing in his pad seems to come to life, creating a portal into the wintry Barren Grounds of Misewa, where the passage of time is, Narnia-like, different from in Winnipeg. After Eli disappears into this world, Morgan is determined to go after him to bring him back. When she finds him, they discover that the Misewa community of animal beings needs their help to survive the White Time. Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation) carefully establishes Morgan’s anger and feelings of alienation, her resentment at their foster parents’ clumsy attempts to connect her to her culture culminating when they awkwardly present a gift of moccasins. The shift into a contemporary Indigenous fantasy is seamless; it is in this world that these foster siblings discover hope and meaning that sustain them when they return to Winnipeg.

This middle-grade fantasy deftly and compellingly centers Indigenous culture. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73526-610-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Puffin/Penguin Random House Canada

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

THE LAST EVER AFTER

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 3

Ultimately more than a little full of itself, but well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and...

Good has won every fairy-tale contest with Evil for centuries, but a dark sorcerer’s scheme to turn the tables comes to fruition in this ponderous closer.

Broadening conflict swirls around frenemies Agatha and Sophie as the latter joins rejuvenated School Master Rafal, who has dispatched an army of villains from Capt. Hook to various evil stepmothers to take stabs (literally) at changing the ends of their stories. Meanwhile, amid a general slaughter of dwarves and billy goats, Agatha and her rigid but educable true love, Tedros, flee for protection to the League of Thirteen. This turns out to be a company of geriatric versions of characters, from Hansel and Gretel (in wheelchairs) to fat and shrewish Cinderella, led by an enigmatic Merlin. As the tale moves slowly toward climactic battles and choices, Chainani further lightens the load by stuffing it with memes ranging from a magic ring that must be destroyed and a “maleficent” gown for Sophie to this oddly familiar line: “Of all the tales in all the kingdoms in all the Woods, you had to walk into mine.” Rafal’s plan turns out to be an attempt to prove that love can be twisted into an instrument of Evil. Though the proposition eventually founders on the twin rocks of true friendship and family ties, talk of “balance” in the aftermath at least promises to give Evil a fighting chance in future fairy tales. Bruno’s polished vignettes at each chapter’s head and elsewhere add sophisticated visual notes.

Ultimately more than a little full of itself, but well-stocked with big themes, inventively spun fairy-tale tropes, and flashes of hilarity. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-210495-3

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2015

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