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

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ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD

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 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

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. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Not for the faint of heart or stomach (or maybe of any parts) but sure to be appreciated by middle school zombie cognoscenti.

ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle meets Left for Dead/The Walking Dead/Shaun of the Dead in a high-energy, high-humor look at the zombie apocalypse, complete with baseball (rather than cricket) bats.

The wholesome-seeming Iowa cornfields are a perfect setting for the emergence of ghastly anomalies: flesh-eating cows and baseball-coach zombies. The narrator hero, Rabi (for Rabindranath), and his youth baseball teammates and friends, Miguel and Joe, discover by chance that all is not well with their small town’s principal industry: the Milrow corporation’s giant feedlot and meat-production and -packing facility. The ponds of cow poo and crammed quarters for the animals are described in gaggingly smelly detail, and the bone-breaking, bloody, flesh-smashing encounters with the zombies have a high gross-out factor. The zombie cows and zombie humans who emerge from the muck are apparently a product of the food supply gone cuckoo in service of big-money profits with little concern for the end result. It’s up to Rabi and his pals to try to prove what’s going on—and to survive the corporation’s efforts to silence them. Much as Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (2010) was a clarion call to action against climate change, here’s a signal alert to young teens to think about what they eat, while the considerable appeal of the characters and plot defies any preachiness.

Not for the faint of heart or stomach (or maybe of any parts) but sure to be appreciated by middle school zombie cognoscenti. (Fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-22078-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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