Offer this hybrid to readers with the patience to appreciate its unhurried pace.

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SEA CHANGE

A summer spent in a remote fishing village in Nova Scotia proves to be transformative.

Twelve-year-old Italian-Canadian Eliot Dionisi is horrified by his parents’ decision to send him to relatives in Point Aconi, Nova Scotia, for the summer. Who can blame a boy from the suburbs for being unenthusiastic about rising at the crack of dawn, filling bait buckets with maggots, and dodging local bullies? It doesn’t take him long to discover, however, that Point Aconi has its consolations, especially his friendship with a local girl, Mary Beth. Author/illustrator Viva’s picture-book roots (Outstanding in the Rain, 2015, etc.) are evident in his first foray into middle-grade fiction. The plentiful illustrations have a slightly retro palette of marine blue, pale yellow, salmon, and black that suits the story’s nostalgic setting. In addition, playful typography weaves the art and story together in unexpected ways. A slanting sentence provides a clothesline for a row of drying fish; uneven lines of light text in varied sizes on a black background convey the twinkling of a starry night. The inventive visuals reward careful attention, but the understated coming-of-age story is awfully slow-moving for preteens. Meanwhile, teens and adults may wish the themes and characters were explored in greater depth and detail.

Offer this hybrid to readers with the patience to appreciate its unhurried pace. (Historical/graphic fiction hybrid. 11 & up)

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-935179-92-4

Page Count: 120

Publisher: TOON Books & Graphics

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Poetic, immersive, hopeful.

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OTHER WORDS FOR HOME

A story about war and displacement, resilience and adjustment.

Warga portrays with extraordinary talent the transformation of a family’s life before and after the war began in Syria. Living in a tourist town on the Syrian coastline, Jude experiences the inequalities in her society firsthand. With the unfolding of the Arab Spring, her older brother, Issa, wants to join protests against the Syrian regime. The parents are in favor of staying out of it, but with news of a new baby and nearby towns turning into battlegrounds, Jude and her mother travel to join her uncle, a medical doctor, and his family in the American Midwest. Her free-verse narration cuts straight to the bone: “Back home, / food was / rice / lamb / fish / hummus / pita bread / olives / feta cheese / za’atar with olive oil. / Here, / that food is / Middle Eastern Food. / Baguettes are French food. / Spaghetti is Italian food. / Pizza is both American and Italian, / depending on which restaurant you go to.” Jude, who has always loved American movies, shares her observations—often with humor—as she soaks everything in and learns this new culture. Only when she starts feeling comfortable with having two homes, one in Syria and one in the U.S., does a terrible incident make her confront the difficult realities of being Muslim and Arab in the U.S.

Poetic, immersive, hopeful. (Historical verse fiction. 11-adult)

Pub Date: May 28, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-274780-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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A painful story smartly told, Benjamin’s first solo novel has appeal well beyond a middle school audience.

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    Best Books Of 2015

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THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH

In middle school, where “Worst Thing” can mean anything from a pimple to public humiliation, Suzy “Zu” Swanson really has a reason to be in crisis: her former best friend has died unexpectedly, and the seventh-grader is literally silenced by grief and confusion.

A chance encounter with a jellyfish display on a school trip gives her focus—for Zu, the venomous Irukandji jellyfish, while rare, provides a possible explanation for the “how” of Franny’s death. And Zu is desperate for answers and relief from her haunting grief and guilt. In seven parts neatly organized around the scientific method as presented by Mrs. Turton, a middle school teacher who really gets the fragility of her students, Zu examines and analyzes past and present. A painful story of friendship made and lost emerges: the inseparable early years, Franny’s pulling away, Zu’s increasing social isolation, and a final attempt by Zu to honor a childhood pact. The author gently paints Zu as a bit of an oddball; not knowing what hair product to use leaves her feeling “like a separate species altogether,” and knowing too many species of jellyfish earns her the nickname Medusa. Surrounded by the cruelty of adolescence, Zu is awkward, smart, methodical, and driven by sadness. She eventually follows her research far beyond the middle school norm, because “ ‘Sometimes things just happen’ is not an explanation. It is not remotely scientific.”

A painful story smartly told, Benjamin’s first solo novel has appeal well beyond a middle school audience. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-38086-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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