In the end, they ride off into the sunset—too bad it's not credible.

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An interesting historical setting is marred by a morally ambiguous protagonist.

When his father dies in the Civil War, 13-year-old Malachy, now head of his household, heads to California to help build the transcontinental railroad. The work is back-breakingly hard, unglamorous and dangerous, but Malachy perseveres. Occasionally he finds himself working alongside Chinese immigrant laborers, who usually keep themselves separate, sleeping and eating alone. One in particular is a boy he names Ducks. Ducks saves Malachy's life more than once, but Malachy resents Ducks and rebuffs his friendly gestures. When the Chinese go on strike for equal wages, Malachy steals a bag of gold from the railroad. Ducks takes the blame and is forced to work without pay for a year. When, at the end, he forgives Malachy at the drop of a hat, it strikes a disappointing and unrealistic note. It's hard to feel sympathy for Malachy, who gambles and steals and, though he feels remorse, never does anything to make amends. While years pass in the novel, and readers are told Malachy grows and matures, they never really see this growth or truly believe it. Wilson's vigorous, lively prose, her fascinating setting and her meticulous attention to historical detail—including the Chinese workers' customs and a blind horse named Thomas—can't overcome the deficiencies in her story.

In the end, they ride off into the sunset—too bad it's not credible.   (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2013-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in...

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NEW KID

From the New Kid series , Vol. 1

Jordan Banks takes readers down the rabbit hole and into his mostly white prep school in this heartbreakingly accurate middle-grade tale of race, class, microaggressions, and the quest for self-identity.

He may be the new kid, but as an African-American boy from Washington Heights, that stigma entails so much more than getting lost on the way to homeroom. Riverdale Academy Day School, located at the opposite end of Manhattan, is a world away, and Jordan finds himself a stranger in a foreign land, where pink clothing is called salmon, white administrators mistake a veteran African-American teacher for the football coach, and white classmates ape African-American Vernacular English to make themselves sound cool. Jordan’s a gifted artist, and his drawings blend with the narrative to give readers a full sense of his two worlds and his methods of coping with existing in between. Craft skillfully employs the graphic-novel format to its full advantage, giving his readers a delightful and authentic cast of characters who, along with New York itself, pop off the page with vibrancy and nuance. Shrinking Jordan to ant-sized proportions upon his entering the school cafeteria, for instance, transforms the lunchroom into a grotesque Wonderland in which his lack of social standing becomes visually arresting and viscerally uncomfortable.

An engrossing, humorous, and vitally important graphic novel that should be required reading in every middle school in America. (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-269120-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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