Yiddish words and phrases and various Jewish customs are sprinkled liberally throughout and defined in a glossary, which...

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WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J.

Be careful what you wish for is the premise of this mildly amusing novel about a girl who aches for a dog.

Zelly Fried, Jewish and entering sixth grade, lives in Vermont, where she doesn’t feel she fits in. Understanding her yearnings, Grandpa (a.k.a. “Ace”) ropes Zelly into using an orange-juice jug as a “practice dog” to convince her parents she’s capable of caring for a real one. Because she loves Ace—and because he’s an unstoppable force of nature (whose booming voice is rendered in large uppercase letters)—Zelly gives in. Taking care of “O.J.” isn’t easy, particularly cleaning up “fake poop.” Schlepping a jug on a leash and including it in various activities is especially humiliating. Why Zelly embarks on this scheme, let alone keeps on, will strain readers’ credulity, as will the delayed entry into the novel of sensible ideas, courtesy of a new friend, for showing that Zelly’s ready for dog ownership. Zelly does rebel at one point but then returns to “O.J.” in a predictable, maudlin plot twist. Characterizations are superficial, though Zelly is likable, and kids will relate to her predicament. Too many subplots also make for uneven storytelling.

Yiddish words and phrases and various Jewish customs are sprinkled liberally throughout and defined in a glossary, which might help the novel reach more than a niche audience. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-375-85924-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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A satisfying, winning read.

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BOOKED

Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class.

Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer—and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable.

A satisfying, winning read. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-57098-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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An eminently satisfying story of family, recovery, and growing into manhood.

REBOUND

In this prequel to Newbery Award–winning The Crossover (2014), Alexander revisits previous themes and formats while exploring new ones.

For Charlie Bell, the future father of The Crossover’s Jordan and Josh, his father’s death alters his relationship with his mother and causes him to avoid what reminds him of his dad. At first, he’s just withdrawn, but after he steals from a neighbor, his mother packs a reluctant Charlie off to his grandparents near Washington, D.C., for the summer. His grandfather works part-time at a Boys and Girls Club where his cousin Roxie is a star basketball player. Despite his protests, she draws him into the game. His time with his grandparents deepens Charlie’s understanding of his father, and he begins to heal. “I feel / a little more normal, / like maybe he’s still here, / … in a / as long as I remember him / he’s still right here / in my heart / kind of way.” Once again, Alexander has given readers an African-American protagonist to cheer. He is surrounded by a strong supporting cast, especially two brilliant female characters, his friend CJ and his cousin Roxie, as well as his feisty and wise granddaddy. Music and cultural references from the late 1980s add authenticity. The novel in verse is enhanced by Anyabwile’s art, which reinforces Charlie’s love for comics.

An eminently satisfying story of family, recovery, and growing into manhood. (Historical verse fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-86813-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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