Readers can’t help but enjoy this heartening book about hanging in there.

DEATH BY TOILET PAPER

After the death of his beloved father, a contest-loving seventh-grade boy and his hardworking waitress mother fight to stay financially afloat.

Benjamin Epstein is still reeling from his father’s death as his mother struggles to achieve her deceased husband’s “Grand Plan”—becoming a licensed CPA. The finish line is in sight, but tips have been terrible, and the landlord is about to evict. Benjamin, who has grit to spare and a gift for wordplay, works diligently on what he hopes will be the winning entry in a contest sponsored by a toilet-paper company, which would give them more than enough money to tide them over. Things become complicated when his increasingly addled grandfather unexpectedly moves in, and Benjamin tangles with a bully who is after his hard-earned candy money. Although Benjamin is almost too good to be true—kindhearted, determined, smart, helpful and full of heart—it’s impossible not to like him and, as the financial noose tightens, root for him like crazy. The subject matter is serious, as this family lives right on the financial edge, and the impending eviction adds suspense. Gephart’s generous view of humanity’s basic goodness shines through, and she leavens her characters’ difficult situation with plenty of humor. Boys in particular will enjoy the toilet-paper facts that begin each chapter.

Readers can’t help but enjoy this heartening book about hanging in there. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-74399-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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