A nostalgic but uneven exploration of friendship and growing pains.

THE BEST WORST SUMMER

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. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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