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The potential horrors of white, middle-class, suburban public school are well-documented and creatively managed here, though...

Alan Cole starts out as a coward but doesn’t end as one in this harrowing but inspiring debut.

White seventh-grader Alan’s home life has taught him that it’s best to stay out of the way. He conceals his crush on Connor Garcia. He doesn’t want friends but eats lunch at the Unstable Table with Madison Truman, who’s bullied about his weight, and Zack Kimble, who cheerfully lives by his own rules. He tries to avoid abuse from his father and violence from his brother Nathan. His mother is a largely passive figure, though she does shed some (unsatisfying) light on the source of their familial trauma. Nathan, who is both sympathetic and frightening as a victim and perpetrator of abuse, wants to crush his brother once and for all in an ongoing contest Nathan calls Cole vs. Cole. As the brothers struggle through their list of tasks for this particularly trying game of  CvC—from getting kissed to standing up to their father—Alan realizes his own potential for strength, the value of friendship, and the warped reasoning behind his father’s rage. Alan’s burgeoning gay identity is only a small part of his larger angst, and his slow but steady growth from cowed endurance to self-assured advocacy makes for a rewarding, if at times difficult, read. The intensity of the family relationships is so effectively rendered that this book has the potential to appeal to older teens as well as a middle school audience.

The potential horrors of white, middle-class, suburban public school are well-documented and creatively managed here, though readers could easily come away either contented or depressed. (Fiction. 11-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-256702-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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

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

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. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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