Sometimes biting, often intense, and marked by moments both of comical awkwardness and grace.

A fifth grader’s tragicomic view of death, divorce, sibling relations, and emotional turmoil.

The acrid divorce is the first trauma as middle child Benny sees his plainly incompatible parents split up and his chain-smoking, self-centered dad failing to be a competent single parent. Then a second blow lands, and he must watch his father lose a battle with lung cancer. Meanwhile, in a Wimpy Kid–style mix of first-person narrative and cartoon drawings that adds twists and punchlines, he records his own growing anger issues and, later, therapy sessions. This heavy material is interspersed with less fraught accounts of, for instance, what it’s like to get a huge loogie in the face from a big brother, fend off the advances of an overly enthusiastic classmate with a crush, always be the last one picked for street games, and get a ludicrously inappropriate plush toy rather than a coveted bike for Christmas. Long’s loosely autobiographical tale is never going to be a happy story, but ultimately the therapy begins to pay off, and a seemingly hostile teacher helps Benny get his schoolwork back up to snuff. Finally, after Benny bids goodbye to his dad at home (where he goes to die) and experiences a rush of big feelings outside the crematorium, the emotional roller coaster glides to a stop in Benny’s closer relations with his siblings and dutiful, if not exactly maternal, mom. Most of the cast appears white.

Sometimes biting, often intense, and marked by moments both of comical awkwardness and grace. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2023

ISBN: 9780316333122

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023


Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven.

An aspiring scientist and a budding artist become friends and help each other with dream projects.

Unfolding in mid-1980s Sacramento, California, this story stars 12-year-olds Rosalind and Benjamin as first-person narrators in alternating chapters. Ro’s father, a fellow space buff, was killed by a drunk driver; the rocket they were working on together lies unfinished in her closet. As for Benji, not only has his best friend, Amir, moved away, but the comic book holding the clue for locating his dad is also missing. Along with their profound personal losses, the protagonists share a fixation with the universe’s intriguing potential: Ro decides to complete the rocket and hopes to launch mementos of her father into outer space while Benji’s conviction that aliens and UFOs are real compels his imagination and creativity as an artist. An accident in science class triggers a chain of events forcing Benji and Ro, who is new to the school, to interact and unintentionally learn each other’s secrets. They resolve to find Benji’s dad—a famous comic-book artist—and partner to finish Ro’s rocket for the science fair. Together, they overcome technical, scheduling, and geographical challenges. Readers will be drawn in by amusing and fantastical elements in the comic book theme, high emotional stakes that arouse sympathy, and well-drawn character development as the protagonists navigate life lessons around grief, patience, self-advocacy, and standing up for others. Ro is biracial (Chinese/White); Benji is White.

Charming, poignant, and thoughtfully woven. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-300888-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020


A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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