Remarkably, this ghost story is much sadder before Andy’s grandfather dies than afterward.
This middle-grade fantasy opens by showing the full pain of losing someone to cancer. At the funeral, in a lovely moment, Andy thinks, “I can’t tell if they’re all crying for Grandpa or if other people have died as well and they’re also being buried today. I don’t dare ask anyone.” But when Grandpa comes back as a spirit, the book turns instantly hopeful. He’s smiling, and he promises never to leave his grandson. The change in tone works surprisingly well at first, but in its later chapters, the book becomes a comic adventure, with Grandpa giving Andy tips on how to woo his crush, and then, abruptly, a thriller, complete with an evil phantom who threatens said crush. This figure appears and, literally, disappears with so little warning that the novel turns into a cartoon, but Krac’s surreal, smudged gray-black drawings are so disturbing that they add a whole layer of menace to the story. Unfortunately, they don’t make the underwritten love interest any less of a cliché (or the cast less uniformly white). Gadot leaves too many plot points unexplained—perhaps to set up later books in the trilogy—but in its slowest, most nuanced scenes, this story about ghosts shows the entire richness of life.
A paranormal that’s at its best when it’s real.
(Supernatural adventure. 8-12)
Black sixth-grader Jake Liston can only play one song on the piano. He can’t read music very well, and he can’t improvise. So how did Jake get accepted to the Music and Art Academy? He faked it.
Alongside an eclectic group of academy classmates, and with advice from his best friend, Jake tries to fit in at a school where things like garbage sculpting and writing art reviews of bird poop splatter are the norm. All is well until Jake discovers that the end-of-the-semester talent show is only two weeks away, and Jake is short one very important thing…talent. Or is he? It’s up to Jake to either find the talent that lies within or embarrass himself in front of the entire school. Light and humorous, with Knight’s illustrations adding to the fun, Jake’s story will likely appeal to many middle-grade readers, especially those who might otherwise be reluctant to pick up a book. While the artsy antics may be over-the-top at times, this is a story about something that most preteens can relate to: the struggle to find your authentic self. And in a world filled with books about wanting to fit in with the athletically gifted supercliques, this novel unabashedly celebrates the artsy crowd in all of its quirky, creative glory.
A fast and funny alternative to the Wimpy Kid.
After Castro’s takeover, nine-year-old Julian and his older brothers are sent away by their fearful parents via “Operation Pedro Pan” to a camp in Miami for Cuban-exile children. Here he discovers that a ruthless bully has essentially been put in charge. Julian is quicker-witted than his brothers or anyone else ever imagined, though, and with his inherent smarts, developing maturity and the help of child and adult friends, he learns to navigate the dynamics of the camp and surroundings and grows from the former baby of the family to independence and self-confidence. A daring rescue mission at the end of the novel will have readers rooting for Julian even as it opens his family’s eyes to his courage and resourcefulness. This autobiographical novel is a well-meaning, fast-paced and often exciting read, though at times the writing feels choppy. It will introduce readers to a not-so-distant period whose echoes are still felt today and inspire admiration for young people who had to be brave despite frightening and lonely odds. (Historical fiction. 9-12)