THE BEST WORST SUMMER

A nostalgic but uneven exploration of friendship and growing pains.

A girl discovers a time capsule in the backyard of her new house.

Eleven-year-old Peyton has moved four hours away from her best friend, Lily; her brother is obsessed with his video games; and her parents are busy with their jobs. She’s convinced that her summer will be awful—until she unearths a box in her backyard containing mementos from 1989, a coded message, and an apology hinting at a broken friendship. Baffled by artifacts such as audiocassettes, she investigates the cryptic contents with help from Lucas, a precocious, sarcastic boy who uses a wheelchair. In alternating chapters set in 1989, Melissa narrates her own intense friendship with Jess, who makes her feel safe amid her increasingly troubled home life. As tension mounts and the note’s meaning unfurls, Peyton in the present-day timeline learns that sometimes friendships take new forms. Eulberg vividly depicts the insecurities of middle school friendships as well as their sometimes seemingly uncanny bonds. Unfortunately, Melissa and Jess’ lopsided relationship weakens the theme. Melissa seldom reciprocates Jess’ unwavering empathy, remaining silent when Jess experiences racism and failing to notice her sadness or loneliness; it’s unclear what Jess sees in her. Lucas is somewhat underdeveloped, and his and Peyton’s fascination with 1980s pop culture feels slightly forced. Most characters present White; Jess was adopted from Korea by White parents, and Lily is Latinx.

A nostalgic but uneven exploration of friendship and growing pains. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0150-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

CLUES TO THE UNIVERSE

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

NUMBER THE STARS

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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