T-BACKS, T-SHIRTS, COAT, AND SUIT

When Zack, manager of a fleet of lunch vans, urges his crew to wear T-backs ("a bathing suit that covered as little as it left to the imagination"), Chloa's aunt Bernadette is the one holdout. Chloa, 12, is in Florida for the summer; she's promised her stepdad to help his sister and to "give the unexpected a chance." Construction crews flock to the vans staffed by the shapely conformists; Bernadette's profits fall, and she's demoted to a still less lucrative spot. Meanwhile, Chloâ helps out, and mischievously tries to convince the mildly obnoxious 13-year-old son of one of the T-back wearers that her aunt is a witch; and a right-wing religious group organizes "Citizens Opposing All T- backs" ("COAT"). The plot thickens (rather implausibly) when COAT, failing to enlist Bernadette, demands that she defend herself against their charge of witchcraft. But admirers of Konigsburg won't be surprised to find that that's no more the crux of her novel than the indecent clothing issue. In the end, what Bernadette successfully defends is her right to choose, without explaining. She and Chloa also establish a warm relationship, of value to both, while Chloa learns (like Claudia in From the Mixed-Up Files...) that she's responsible for her own identity. The author's forthright, staccato style and witty descriptions are marvelous; occasional interpolated anecdotes (e.g., a succinct thriller about how Bernadette got her dog; lively precis of Savonarola and Galileo) amplify the theme and characterizations. Offbeat, comic, thought-provoking: a top-notch author at full strength. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 1993

ISBN: 0-689-31855-3

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1993

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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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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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