This entertaining read is as complex as it is delightful.

JUST BE COOL, JENNA SAKAI

Jenna Sakai, seventh grade superstar journalist in the making, tackles the story of her life.

Japanese American Jenna from Keep It Together, Keiko Carter (2020) is having quite the school year. Her parents are still adjusting after a nasty divorce, and her boyfriend and fellow student journalist Elliot Oxford has broken up with her. Nursing a bruised, but not broken, heart on multiple fronts, she becomes more resolved than ever to protect herself and focus on her goals as a hard-hitting investigative reporter. This is not without challenges in the form of having to write a personal essay for newspaper club and scoping out a stellar story for a journalism scholarship competition, all while trying to reconnect with her friend Keiko. Jenna finds some solace in hanging out in a Broadway-themed diner, but when the mysterious and artistic Rin Watanabe encroaches on her preferred Hamilton booth, she has to determine if his presence is annoying or—possibly worse—welcome. Jenna faces even more surprises as her scholarship article forces her to reexamine her own emotional journey and biases. Florence offers a tightly written narrative that is as fearless as it is balanced, diving into complicated feelings of distrust and isolation while still offering glimmers of friendship and hope. Jenna’s honest voice shines with clarity, portraying a flawed but relatable protagonist whom readers will root for.

This entertaining read is as complex as it is delightful. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-67156-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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