SPIRIT'S KEY

Despite these shortcomings, however, this debut is an inventive story with a fresh setting and an upstanding moral compass.

This middle-grade ghostly mystery delivers a timely message.

Life on tiny Bald Island is fragile—but for 12-year-old Spirit Holden, who moved there with her father six years earlier, it is home. To the islanders, the Holdens will always be “dingbatters”—outsiders—but their superstitious natures appreciate Spirit’s father’s gift of second sight, since they believe it protects them from the harsh natural elements as well as the baldies—the island’s feral dogs. Even Spirit’s pet baldie, Sky, cannot sway the islanders’ belief that the dogs are evil. Cohn reflects on insular attitudes in an isolated region as she spins a story about fear of the unknown. When baldies begin turning up dead (including Spirit’s beloved Sky) and people fall sick, islanders begin blaming the Holdens. With the help of Sky, who returns as a sort of canis ex machina ghost, Spirit uncovers the secret to the baldies’ deaths, discovers her own power and convinces the islanders that superstition and narrow thinking are the real dangers. The story’s worthy theme of tolerance would be more effective if it were not trotted out quite so regularly, and the pacing often drags when action seems most dictated—a casualty of the same tendency to overexplain. 

Despite these shortcomings, however, this debut is an inventive story with a fresh setting and an upstanding moral compass. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-30011-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

THE WORLD-FAMOUS NINE

A whodunit that doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise.

Coded clues put two young sleuths on the trail of a magic mandala hidden somewhere in a huge, bustling department store.

Hardly has meek young Zander Olinga arrived for a visit with Zina Winebee, his grandmother and owner-manager of the Number Nine Plaza, than he learns of a threat to the continued existence of the renowned emporium. The danger is linked to Darkbloom, a rumored evil spirit set on reversing the good-fortune charm left by Nepali monks at the store’s founding. The stone tablet bearing the magical mandala vanished 90 years ago, and finding its hiding place becomes a race pitting Zander and intrepid new ally Natasha Novikov against unknown saboteurs whose minds have been taken over by Darkbloom. The keys to the tablet’s location are a series of ingenious word and number clues left by Zander’s great-granduncle Vladimir, and Guterson provides enough hints along the way for savvy readers to decode them. What he doesn’t do is give either his leads or the many-faceted store (which, over the course of the story, is explored from the Ferris wheel on its roof to the bakery in the cellar) any more depth or distinctive traits than he gives Nepali religious practice. Darkbloom remains a shadowy bugaboo, its actual nature and motivations unexplained and its fate left anticlimactically unresolved. Zander’s father is from Cameroon, and his mother reads white; names cue some diversity in the supporting cast. Final art not seen. (This review has been updated for factual accuracy.)

A whodunit that doesn’t live up to its intriguing premise. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2024

ISBN: 9780316484442

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

STAY

Entrancing and uplifting.

A small dog, the elderly woman who owns him, and a homeless girl come together to create a tale of serendipity.

Piper, almost 12, her parents, and her younger brother are at the bottom of a long slide toward homelessness. Finally in a family shelter, Piper finds that her newfound safety gives her the opportunity to reach out to someone who needs help even more. Jewel, mentally ill, lives in the park with her dog, Baby. Unwilling to leave her pet, and forbidden to enter the shelter with him, she struggles with the winter weather. Ree, also homeless and with a large dog, helps when she can, but after Jewel gets sick and is hospitalized, Baby’s taken to the animal shelter, and Ree can’t manage the complex issues alone. It’s Piper, using her best investigative skills, who figures out Jewel’s backstory. Still, she needs all the help of the shelter Firefly Girls troop that she joins to achieve her accomplishment: to raise enough money to provide Jewel and Baby with a secure, hopeful future and, maybe, with their kindness, to inspire a happier story for Ree. Told in the authentic alternating voices of loving child and loyal dog, this tale could easily slump into a syrupy melodrama, but Pyron lets her well-drawn characters earn their believable happy ending, step by challenging step, by reaching out and working together. Piper, her family, and Jewel present white; Pyron uses hair and naming convention, respectively, to cue Ree as black and Piper’s friend Gabriela as Latinx.

Entrancing and uplifting. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-283922-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

Close Quickview