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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Serious themes lightened by comedic touches; the strong emotional attachments will linger with readers.

ALWAYS, CLEMENTINE

Letters from a super-intelligent mouse to the beloved chimpanzee she leaves behind when she escapes a research lab.

Poignant, loving, and threaded through with the joy of discovery, the letters that Clementine mentally composes to her gentle simian friend tell a tale that takes suspenseful turns while affirming tolerance and self-expression. Thanks to tweaked DNA, she’s thinking about prime numbers the day she is born, helps other mice navigate mazes, and figures out how to escape her cage at night and sign with the lab’s sad, affectionate chimp, Rosie. When a guilt-ridden research assistant spirits her and another mouse subject out of the lab, leaving them in a nearby mailbox, she begins a series of reports to Rosie about the wonders of the outside world. Eleven-year-old Gus and his grandfather welcome the fugitives rather than turn them in for the large reward offered by the lab when the mousenapping is discovered. They create a storm of public protest against animal experimentation by televising a chess match in which Clementine beats five experienced human players simultaneously. Along with offering an optimistic, aspirational view of human nature as she winds the story to a joyous conclusion, Sorosiak tucks in a subplot around nonverbal Hamlet, the other mouse escapee, who constructs a model of Notre Dame out of wood chips, as food for further thought about different intelligences. The human cast seems to be mostly White.

Serious themes lightened by comedic touches; the strong emotional attachments will linger with readers. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5362-2884-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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The three way chats, in which they are joined by other animals, about web spinning, themselves, other humans—are as often...

CHARLOTTE'S WEB

A successful juvenile by the beloved New Yorker writer portrays a farm episode with an imaginative twist that makes a poignant, humorous story of a pig, a spider and a little girl.

Young Fern Arable pleads for the life of runt piglet Wilbur and gets her father to sell him to a neighbor, Mr. Zuckerman. Daily, Fern visits the Zuckermans to sit and muse with Wilbur and with the clever pen spider Charlotte, who befriends him when he is lonely and downcast. At the news of Wilbur's forthcoming slaughter, campaigning Charlotte, to the astonishment of people for miles around, spins words in her web. "Some Pig" comes first. Then "Terrific"—then "Radiant". The last word, when Wilbur is about to win a show prize and Charlotte is about to die from building her egg sac, is "Humble". And as the wonderful Charlotte does die, the sadness is tempered by the promise of more spiders next spring.

The three way chats, in which they are joined by other animals, about web spinning, themselves, other humans—are as often informative as amusing, and the whole tenor of appealing wit and pathos will make fine entertainment for reading aloud, too.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1952

ISBN: 978-0-06-026385-0

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1952

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