After a strong beginning, this atmospheric but overstuffed novel flounders, rallying at the end to pull off a touching...

BREAKING THE ICE

An emotional meltdown at a figure skating competition gets 12-year-old Kaitlin kicked out of her high-status skating club and jettisoned by her longtime coach in this middle-grade sports novel.

Rejected by the rest of the respected clubs, Kaitlin must join a rink filled with misfits and problem skaters that is seen as a joke in her hypercompetitive world. There’s a lot of great stuff in Nall’s figure skating novel, narrated in the first person and largely aimed at girls. The atmosphere is particularly redolent, and the setup—Kaitlin’s outburst and its unexpected life-changing aftermath—gives fascinating insight into the largely veiled world of junior competitive skating. Although a technically adept skater, what’s keeping Kaitlin back is her inability to make the emotional inner connection she needs to skate her heart out. How she learns to do this is the stuff of the duller and more muddled middle, which features more characters and situations than the novel can effectively handle. The formerly rule-following Kaitlin rebels in small but important ways, finds the courage to ask for what she wants, crushes on a cute boy and makes real friends. Unfortunately, Nall’s thesis, that this journey gives Kaitlin the emotional experience she needs to soar as an artist, fails to convince.

After a strong beginning, this atmospheric but overstuffed novel flounders, rallying at the end to pull off a touching finish. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1911-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

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BROWN GIRL DREAMING

A multiaward–winning author recalls her childhood and the joy of becoming a writer.

Writing in free verse, Woodson starts with her 1963 birth in Ohio during the civil rights movement, when America is “a country caught / / between Black and White.” But while evoking names such as Malcolm, Martin, James, Rosa and Ruby, her story is also one of family: her father’s people in Ohio and her mother’s people in South Carolina. Moving south to live with her maternal grandmother, she is in a world of sweet peas and collards, getting her hair straightened and avoiding segregated stores with her grandmother. As the writer inside slowly grows, she listens to family stories and fills her days and evenings as a Jehovah’s Witness, activities that continue after a move to Brooklyn to reunite with her mother. The gift of a composition notebook, the experience of reading John Steptoe’s Stevie and Langston Hughes’ poetry, and seeing letters turn into words and words into thoughts all reinforce her conviction that “[W]ords are my brilliance.” Woodson cherishes her memories and shares them with a graceful lyricism; her lovingly wrought vignettes of country and city streets will linger long after the page is turned.

For every dreaming girl (and boy) with a pencil in hand (or keyboard) and a story to share. (Memoir/poetry. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-25251-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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