UP FROM JERICHO TEL

In Konigsburg's novel, her two talented child protagonists, Jeanmarie and Malcolm, learn the three requirements for fame in a sometimes whimsical, sometimes mysterious tale. A study in ambition—its origins and effects—the story integrates a fantasy into reality when Jeanmarie and Malcolm meet Tallulah, a once-famous, long-dead actress. From her incorporeal luxurious room below Jericho Tel, Tallulah gives the children assignments to carry out "Topside" using a magic invisibility. The assignment: find Tallulah's street-performer friends and her servants who were present at the moment of her death and discover who took her precious Regina Stone. As the story opens, Jeanmarie and Malcolm, two lonely latchkey children, form an uneasy partnership when they create an animal cemetery, which they call Jericho Tel. Malcolm is not shy in declaring his talents of neatness and logical thinking, and his goal of becoming a famous chemist or physicist. Jeanmarie confides her ambition of being a famous actress. "You may not be pretty enough, but you sure are peculiar enough" is Malcolm's reaction, though he thinks she does have a talent for dramatizing things. Tallulah's influence on the two is reflected in her sayings which precede each chapter. For example, "The difference between going to school and getting an education is the difference between picking an apple and eating it." Or "A happy person strikes a balance between doing good and doing well." Or "If you must complain in public, either be amusing or outrageous." The first two essentials for stardom, the children learn, are talent and timing. The third requirement they realize when they discover the thief of the Regina Stone necklace from among the suspects: a ventriloquist, a singer, a record-shop owner, or the former butler; all were present at the moment of Tallulah's death. Konigsburg has once again brought her readers a set of memorable characters and a unique perspective on children's hopes and ambitions. The story is told with a light touch but contains some substance as well—a good exploration of aspirations to and attainment of fame.

Pub Date: March 1, 1986

ISBN: 0689823320

Page Count: 198

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1986

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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It’s fine, but it doesn’t live up to its potential as a STEM-plus-caper adventure.

CITY SPIES

From the City Spies series , Vol. 1

This thriller reads like Miss Congeniality meets Kingsman, starring Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and Anishinaabe-kwe water protector Autumn Peltier…kind of.

Puerto Rican–born, Brooklyn-raised Sara isn’t expecting much from her court-appointed lawyer—she has no reason to put faith in the system that put her in jail after she hacked into the city’s computers to expose her foster parents as abusive frauds. But with juvie her only other prospect, Sara takes a leap and agrees to a wild proposition: She’ll join Britain’s MI6 as a kid operative. When she arrives at the covert facility in Scotland, she meets the other kids the MI6 agent, a white Englishman affectionately called Mother, has taken in—all of them, like Sara, have highly developed skills in logic, puzzles, sneakiness, and other useful spy tactics. Mother has a mission for them; he’s taking them to Paris to a competition for youth environmental innovation, where their job is to perform just well enough to make it into the top 10 so they can protect the eccentric billionaire sponsor of the contest from an imminent threat. It’s a fun romp with timely but superficial things to say about environmental activism, though the recruitment process and messy organization stretches the imagination even with a hardy suspension of disbelief. For a spy story, it’s surprisingly interior focused rather than action packed. The cast is technically diverse in ethnic background, but this has next to no influence on the characters.

It’s fine, but it doesn’t live up to its potential as a STEM-plus-caper adventure. (Thriller. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1491-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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