Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read.

MOMENTOUS EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

From the Life of a Cactus series

In the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), Aven Green confronts her biggest challenge yet: surviving high school without arms.

Fourteen-year-old Aven has just settled into life at Stagecoach Pass with her adoptive parents when everything changes again. She’s entering high school, which means that 2,300 new kids will stare at her missing arms—and her feet, which do almost everything hands can (except, alas, air quotes). Aven resolves to be “blasé” and field her classmates’ pranks with aplomb, but a humiliating betrayal shakes her self-confidence. Even her friendships feel unsteady. Her friend Connor’s moved away and made a new friend who, like him, has Tourette’s syndrome: a girl. And is Lando, her friend Zion’s popular older brother, being sweet to Aven out of pity—or something more? Bowling keenly depicts the universal awkwardness of adolescence and the particular self-consciousness of navigating a disability. Aven’s “armless-girl problems” realistically grow thornier in this outing, touching on such tough topics as death and aging, but warm, quirky secondary characters lend support. A few preachy epiphanies notwithstanding, Aven’s honest, witty voice shines—whether out-of-reach vending-machine snacks are “taunting” her or she’s nursing heartaches. A subplot exploring Aven’s curiosity about her biological father resolves with a touching twist. Most characters, including Aven, appear white; Zion and Lando are black.

Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3329-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise.

WHERE SHE FELL

A teenager battles social anxiety disorder and giant bugs in a subterranean world.

When two bad friends to whom she’s been clinging trick her into venturing into the ominously named Drowners Swamp, Eliza falls into a sinkhole that leads into a seemingly endless cave system. Being an avid fan of caves and geology, Eliza is as enthralled as she is terrified—a mix of emotions that remains unaltered as she encounters a small community of likewise trapped people surviving on a diet of outsized spiders and cave insects. Weeks later she is captured (briefly, thanks to a conveniently timed spider attack) by bioluminescent humanoids. All the while, despite having been in therapy for years, she continually denigrates herself for panic attacks and freezing up around others. Her emotional reactions take up so much of the narrative, in fact, that for all its lurid, occasionally gruesome turns, it’s hard to tell whether character or action drives the story more. In the event, Eliza is surprised to find reserves of inner strength—and a chance at personal transformation—through her ordeal. The first-person narration is punctuated with excerpts and sketches from Eliza’s journal. Except for one character with brown skin, the nonglowing cast defaults to white. Warring themes and elements give this outing a distinct feel of multiple stories yoked together by violence.

Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise. (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-23007-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Point/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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A mixed bag for epilepsy representation; satisfying as a friendship tale.

TALKING TO ALASKA

Two very different kids who need the same dog realize they both sometimes feel like they’re walking around on Mars.

Parker and Sven, two White 13-year-olds, are both nervous starting a new year at their school in the Netherlands. Parker’s recovering from a traumatic experience, and Sven hasn’t adapted to his epilepsy diagnosis. The first day of school begins badly for both of them: Sven, trying to impress people, gives Parker a mean nickname, then closes the day with a very public seizure. He frequently experiences generalized tonic-clonic seizures and can no longer bike or swim, and he has a service dog, Alaska, whom he resents. But only four months ago, Alaska was Parker’s pet. In alternating perspectives, Parker and Sven confront trauma, grief, and how they feel like aliens at school. The premise that Parker’s former house pet is now Sven’s skilled seizure dog after only one month of training bends credulity to the breaking point in a novel packed with little informational lessons about epilepsy and service animals. The book was translated from the original Dutch into British English, and although the text has been largely Americanized, it frequently uses the word fit for seizure—considered ableist and pejorative phrasing in the U.S. (though not in the U.K.). On the other hand, it’s wonderful to see a helmet normalized for a disabled protagonist who’s prone to falls.

A mixed bag for epilepsy representation; satisfying as a friendship tale. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-78607-880-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Rock the Boat/Oneworld

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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