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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Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark.


From the Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter series , Vol. 2

An animal ghost seeks closure after enduring aquatic atrocities.

In this sequel to The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter (2020), sixth grader Rex is determined to once again use his ability to communicate with dead animals for the greater good. A ghost narwhal’s visit gives Rex his next opportunity in the form of the clue “bad water.” Rex enlists Darvish—his Pakistani American human best friend—and Drumstick—his “faithful (dead) chicken”—to help crack the case. But the mystery is only one of Rex’s many roadblocks. For starters, Sami Mulpepper hugged him at a dance, and now she’s his “accidental girlfriend.” Even worse, Darvish develops one of what Rex calls “Game Preoccupation Disorders” over role-playing game Monsters & Mayhem that may well threaten the pair’s friendship. Will Rex become “a Sherlock without a Watson,” or can the two make amends in time to solve the mystery? This second outing effectively carries the “ghost-mist” torch from its predecessor without feeling too much like a formulaic carbon copy. Spouting terms like plausible deniability and in flagrante delicto, Rex makes for a hilariously bombastic (if unlikable) first-person narrator. The over-the-top style is contagious, and black-and-white illustrations throughout add cartoony punchlines to various scenes. Unfortunately, scenes in which humor comes at the expense of those with less status are downright cringeworthy, as when Rex, who reads as White, riffs on the impossibility of his ever pronouncing Darvish’s surname or he plays dumb by staring into space and drooling.

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark. (Paranormal mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5523-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.


Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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