RAISING THE SHADES

Casey knows that he must rush home every day to clean up his Dad’s empty beer bottles, finish dinner when his Dad retreats to the garage to get high, and put a blanket over his Dad when he passes out from drinking. Casey knows to expect disappointment when his father promises to take him to a football game and to expect embarrassment when his father is drunk in public. But when Casey’s aunt asks him to participate in an intervention for his father, he does not know if he can handle the situation and does not know how his dad will respond. As it turns out, the intervention process itself becomes not only a path to recovery for his father, but also a way for Casey to regain his freedom and childhood. Wilhelm almost avoids didacticism by depicting the subject of alcoholism in a convincing manner with realistic characters. Occasional slides into messages can be overlooked thanks to the better writing elsewhere. Casey’s sidekick, Oscar, and a budding friendship with Tara, whose own mother died from substance abuse, blend humor and a touch of romance to this serious topic. One quibble rests with the dénouement, which gives the responsibility of the intervention back to Casey, who has had to learn that everything is not his fault. Could he do it and would that be the right thing given the circumstances? Still, the story with its sympathetic hero will have strong appeal for a wide range of readers including those who need to learn Casey’s lesson. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: April 25, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-36178-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Fans of R.J. Palacio's Wonder (2012) will appreciate this feel-good story of friendship and unconventional smarts.

FISH IN A TREE

Hunt draws a portrait of dyslexia and getting along.

Ally Nickerson, who’s passed through seven schools in seven years, maintains a Sketchbook of Impossible Things. A snowman in a furnace factory is more plausible than imagining herself doing something right—like reading. She doesn't know why, but letters dance and give her headaches. Her acting out to disguise her difficulty causes headaches for her teachers, who, oddly, never consider dyslexia, even though each notices signs like inconsistent spellings of the same word. Ally's confusion is poignant when misunderstandings like an unintentional sympathy card for a pregnant teacher make her good intentions backfire, and readers will sympathize as she copes with the class "mean girls." When a creative new teacher, Mr. Daniels, steps in, the plot turns more uplifting but also metaphor-heavy; a coin with a valuable flaw, cupcakes with hidden letters, mystery boxes and references to the Island of Misfit Toys somewhat belabor the messages that things aren't always what they seem and everyone is smart in their own ways. Despite emphasis on "thinking outside the box," characters are occasionally stereotypical—a snob, a brainiac, an unorthodox teacher—but Ally's new friendships are satisfying, as are the recognition of her dyslexia and her renewed determination to read.

Fans of R.J. Palacio's Wonder (2012) will appreciate this feel-good story of friendship and unconventional smarts. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-399-16259-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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