An engrossing fantasy and a thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

THE RED ABALONE SHELL

From the Last Crystal Trilogy series , Vol. 2

In Schoonmaker’s fantasy-series installment, a powerful dark-magic object is tied to the fate of a boy in World War I-era America.

This trilogy for middle-schoolers began in The Black Alabaster Box, (2018) set in 1856, in which the preteen Grace Willis is kidnapped by Hiram Swathmore from a wagon train bound for California. After she’s rescued by the mysterious Mr. Nichols, Grace became the chosen guardian of “the last crystal,” an ancient object of immense healing power that she must keep out of the hands of Celeste, a corrupt, once-immortal enchantress. By the end of the first book, Celeste’s efforts to retrieve the crystal had dire consequences for then-adult Grace, her husband, and two children. The second book skips 20 years (as the author explains in her preface) to the beginning of World War I, and centers on Grace’s 12-year-old son, James, who’s found on a church step in a rural Oklahoma town. He has only hazy memories of his family, and his only possessions are a rolled-up map and a red abalone shell. James is accompanied by Old Shep, a canine harbinger of fantastical elements to come. After the boy is adopted by a loving German-American farming couple, he becomes more relatable as he matures over the course of the book; his self-doubt, fears and anger, and his impulse to do the right thing ring true. His memories of his family’s shocking fate, and those responsible for it, flood back with the reappearance of Mr. Nichols, who takes James back to an odd pocket of time to visit his forgotten little sister in a village where she’s safe from the threat that destroyed their parents. He returns to the present to become the magic crystal’s next protector, dangerously drawing the attention of evil Celeste. The author effortlessly weaves together fantasy, history, and real-world dilemmas into a compelling narrative that touches on pacificism, the anti-German sentiment that arose in the United States during the First World War, an appearance by the infamous criminal Dalton Gang, and the return of the vicious brother-and-sister outlaw duo from the first book. A satisfying setup for the final installment of the trilogy hints at another player in the fate of the “Last Crystal,” and the significance of James’ map.

An engrossing fantasy and a thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9979607-8-5

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Auctus Publishers

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2020

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However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the...

TUCK EVERLASTING

At a time when death has become an acceptable, even voguish subject in children's fiction, Natalie Babbitt comes through with a stylistic gem about living forever. 

Protected Winnie, the ten-year-old heroine, is not immortal, but when she comes upon young Jesse Tuck drinking from a secret spring in her parents' woods, she finds herself involved with a family who, having innocently drunk the same water some 87 years earlier, haven't aged a moment since. Though the mood is delicate, there is no lack of action, with the Tucks (previously suspected of witchcraft) now pursued for kidnapping Winnie; Mae Tuck, the middle aged mother, striking and killing a stranger who is onto their secret and would sell the water; and Winnie taking Mae's place in prison so that the Tucks can get away before she is hanged from the neck until....? Though Babbitt makes the family a sad one, most of their reasons for discontent are circumstantial and there isn't a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from their fate or Winnie's decision not to share it. 

However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the first week in August when this takes place to "the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning") help to justify the extravagant early assertion that had the secret about to be revealed been known at the time of the action, the very earth "would have trembled on its axis like a beetle on a pin." (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0312369816

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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This can’t be the last we ever hear of the Legendary Alston Boys of the purely surreal Logan County—imaginative,...

THE LAST LAST-DAY-OF-SUMMER

From the Legendary Alston Boys series , Vol. 1

Can this really be the first time readers meet the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County? Cousins and veteran sleuths Otto and Sheed Alston show us that we are the ones who are late to their greatness.

These two black boys are coming to terms with the end of their brave, heroic summer at Grandma’s, with a return to school just right around the corner. They’ve already got two keys to the city, but the rival Epic Ellisons—twin sisters Wiki and Leen—are steadily gaining celebrity across Logan County, Virginia, and have in hand their third key to the city. No way summer can end like this! These young people are powerful, courageous, experienced adventurers molded through their heroic commitment to discipline and deduction. They’ve got their shared, lifesaving maneuvers committed to memory (printed in a helpful appendix) and ready to save any day. Save the day they must, as a mysterious, bendy gentleman and an oversized, clingy platypus have been unleashed on the city of Fry, and all the residents and their belongings seem to be frozen in time and place. Will they be able to solve this one? With total mastery, Giles creates in Logan County an exuberant vortex of weirdness, where the commonplace sits cheek by jowl with the utterly fantastic, and populates it with memorable characters who more than live up to their setting.

This can’t be the last we ever hear of the Legendary Alston Boys of the purely surreal Logan County—imaginative, thrill-seeking readers, this is a series to look out for. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-46083-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Versify/HMH

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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