A compelling story on a difficult topic, addressed with maturity and grace.

SPARKERS

A fantasy debut grapples thoughtfully with all-too-mundane evil.

Fourteen-year-old Marah may be intelligent, hardworking and musically gifted, but a mere “sparker” (the insulting slang kasir magicians use for the despised halani underclass) has little chance of a future. Such concerns seem trivial, though, when a mysterious plague devastates the city of Ashara. Marah forges an unlikely partnership with Azariah, a talented young kasir, to decipher a forbidden ancient text that might offer a cure—but what if the epidemic conceals a more sinister threat? Social injustice is a rare theme in middle-grade fantasy, but Glewwe conveys the insidious poison of prejudice by grounding the narrative in evocative details, constructing Ashara from an intriguing mix of the familiar and the alien. Marah is a terrific heroine—smart, determined and ferociously devoted to her friends and family—but she also makes mistakes, asks for help and finds herself torn between conflicting desires. If the other characters are less rich, they are still commendably complex and diverse. The grim subjects—racism, disease, betrayal and genocide—demand a dark tone, but it is never graphic or gratuitous. Nor is this tale devoid of light; but while insisting that triumph over systemic oppression is possible, it does not pretend that victory will be easy or without compromise.

A compelling story on a difficult topic, addressed with maturity and grace. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-451-46876-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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DRAMA

From award winner Telgemeier (Smile, 2010), a pitch-perfect graphic novel portrayal of a middle school musical, adroitly capturing the drama both on and offstage.

Seventh-grader Callie Marin is over-the-moon to be on stage crew again this year for Eucalyptus Middle School’s production of Moon over Mississippi. Callie's just getting over popular baseball jock and eighth-grader Greg, who crushed her when he left Callie to return to his girlfriend, Bonnie, the stuck-up star of the play. Callie's healing heart is quickly captured by Justin and Jesse Mendocino, the two very cute twins who are working on the play with her. Equally determined to make the best sets possible with a shoestring budget and to get one of the Mendocino boys to notice her, the immensely likable Callie will find this to be an extremely drama-filled experience indeed. The palpably engaging and whip-smart characterization ensures that the charisma and camaraderie run high among those working on the production. When Greg snubs Callie in the halls and misses her reference to Guys and Dolls, one of her friends assuredly tells her, "Don't worry, Cal. We’re the cool kids….He's the dork." With the clear, stylish art, the strongly appealing characters and just the right pinch of drama, this book will undoubtedly make readers stand up and cheer.

Brava!  (Graphic fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-32698-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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