A beautifully written elegy to coming of age in bygone days that, unfortunately, oversimplifies complex issues.

READ REVIEW

FISHBONE'S SONG

A white boy narrates his upbringing by a solitary old white man in a tiny cabin in the woods.

The unnamed narrator, a boy of “thirteen…or fourteen, maybe fifteen,” has lived all his remembered life by Caddo Creek with an old man named Fishbone. In the evenings, Fishbone sips moonshine and tells the boy stories: of how the boy as a baby came to live with him (three different versions) and of Fishbone’s own life—how he got his name, women and love, fast cars and running moonshine, and getting shot in Korea during the war. Gradually the boy comes to understand, as he spends his days closely observing the natural world and hunting alone in the forest, that Fishbone’s stories are a map to a way of thinking and living. Paulsen’s writing is lyrical and his story allegorical in its exploration of how a young person growing up in virtual isolation who is given time and space can develop into the person he needs to be. As such, it’s a pointed and necessary antidote to today’s plugged-in, nature-deprived childhood. Where it skews, however, is in its easy romanticizing of running moonshine, drinking and driving, lack of formal education, and an alternate, unsubstantiated version of the Whiskey Rebellion.

A beautifully written elegy to coming of age in bygone days that, unfortunately, oversimplifies complex issues. (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5226-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read.

MOMENTOUS EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

From the Life of a Cactus series

In the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), Aven Green confronts her biggest challenge yet: surviving high school without arms.

Fourteen-year-old Aven has just settled into life at Stagecoach Pass with her adoptive parents when everything changes again. She’s entering high school, which means that 2,300 new kids will stare at her missing arms—and her feet, which do almost everything hands can (except, alas, air quotes). Aven resolves to be “blasé” and field her classmates’ pranks with aplomb, but a humiliating betrayal shakes her self-confidence. Even her friendships feel unsteady. Her friend Connor’s moved away and made a new friend who, like him, has Tourette’s syndrome: a girl. And is Lando, her friend Zion’s popular older brother, being sweet to Aven out of pity—or something more? Bowling keenly depicts the universal awkwardness of adolescence and the particular self-consciousness of navigating a disability. Aven’s “armless-girl problems” realistically grow thornier in this outing, touching on such tough topics as death and aging, but warm, quirky secondary characters lend support. A few preachy epiphanies notwithstanding, Aven’s honest, witty voice shines—whether out-of-reach vending-machine snacks are “taunting” her or she’s nursing heartaches. A subplot exploring Aven’s curiosity about her biological father resolves with a touching twist. Most characters, including Aven, appear white; Zion and Lando are black.

Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3329-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise.

WHERE SHE FELL

A teenager battles social anxiety disorder and giant bugs in a subterranean world.

When two bad friends to whom she’s been clinging trick her into venturing into the ominously named Drowners Swamp, Eliza falls into a sinkhole that leads into a seemingly endless cave system. Being an avid fan of caves and geology, Eliza is as enthralled as she is terrified—a mix of emotions that remains unaltered as she encounters a small community of likewise trapped people surviving on a diet of outsized spiders and cave insects. Weeks later she is captured (briefly, thanks to a conveniently timed spider attack) by bioluminescent humanoids. All the while, despite having been in therapy for years, she continually denigrates herself for panic attacks and freezing up around others. Her emotional reactions take up so much of the narrative, in fact, that for all its lurid, occasionally gruesome turns, it’s hard to tell whether character or action drives the story more. In the event, Eliza is surprised to find reserves of inner strength—and a chance at personal transformation—through her ordeal. The first-person narration is punctuated with excerpts and sketches from Eliza’s journal. Except for one character with brown skin, the nonglowing cast defaults to white. Warring themes and elements give this outing a distinct feel of multiple stories yoked together by violence.

Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise. (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-23007-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Point/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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