FREEING FINCH

Rorby (How To Speak Dolphin, 2015, etc.) once again tackles social issues through animal relationships.

In her author’s note, Rorby explains that the book was originally inspired by an extremely sad dog, but then she met an elderly transgender woman whose experience became the basis for “the heart of this story.” She goes on to say she then spoke with some trans children and their families, and Finch Delgado is the unfortunate result. She is an 11-year-old transgender girl who deals with both predictable trans trauma (sexual assault, threats of conversion therapy) as well as the death of her beloved and understanding mother, a ne’er-do-well father, an unemployed, alcoholic stepfather, and his religiously conservative new wife. Finch’s solace comes from Maddy, an elderly neighbor who rehabilitates animals, and her new friend Sherri, a cool girl from Vegas with a deadbeat mom. Even if the story didn’t whiplash between cookie-cutter angst and the overwrought metaphor of a wary but loyal neglected dog, the story would still be rife with flaws. Finch reads like a much older character, and uneven character development, didactic writing, and excruciatingly slow pacing further derail the reading experience. Finch ultimately comes across as a collection of stereotypes rather than a fully realized character, and the cis characters are all either remorseless bullies or flawless supporters (and sometimes, confusingly, both). Finch’s Latinx-sounding surname notwithstanding, characters are default white.

Egregious. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-29372-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Starscape/Tom Doherty

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new...

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THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN

How Ivan confronts his harrowing past yet stays true to his nature exemplifies everything youngsters need to know about courage.

Living in a "domain" of glass, metal and cement at the Big Top Mall, Ivan sometimes forgets whether to act like a gorilla or a human—except Ivan does not think much of humans. He describes their behavior as frantic, whereas he is a peaceful artist. Fittingly, Ivan narrates his tale in short, image-rich sentences and acute, sometimes humorous, observations that are all the more heartbreaking for their simple delivery. His sorrow is palpable, but he stoically endures the cruelty of humans until Ruby the baby elephant is abused. In a pivotal scene, Ivan finally admits his domain is a cage, and rather than let Ruby live and die in grim circumstances, he promises to save her. In order to express his plea in a painting, Ivan must bravely face buried memories of the lush jungle, his family and their brutal murder, which is recounted in a brief, powerful chapter sure to arouse readers’ passions. In a compelling ending, the more challenging question Applegate poses is whether or not Ivan will remember what it was like to be a gorilla. Spot art captures poignant moments throughout.

Utterly believable, this bittersweet story, complete with an author’s note identifying the real Ivan, will inspire a new generation of advocates. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199225-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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