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THE SISTERS OF STRAYGARDEN PLACE

Superb, spooky, and unforgettable.

In an enchanted house, three sisters face confusing dangers.

Years ago, Mamma and Pappa silently walked out of the large, formal, and daunting Straygarden Place, leaving their daughters a cryptic note: “Do not leave the house. / Do not go into the grass. / Wait for us. / Sleep darkly.” The silver grass outside looms taller than the house itself; always aggressive, it plugs the keyholes, blocks the windows, shakes the walls, and hisses words. It tries to get in. One day, eldest sister Winnow goes outdoors—and when she returns, nothing is the same. The house still nurturingly feeds and clothes the girls using magic, but Winnow sickens and begins to turn silver. Unable to talk, Winnow rages incoherently at middle sister and third-person protagonist Mayhap. The relationships among Mayhap, Winnow, and youngest sister Pavonine tip sideways with anger, bafflement, and terror. Even each girl’s personally bonded droomhund—a small black dog who squeezes physically into its girl’s brain when she needs darkness for sleeping—can’t provide comfort, and Winnow’s droomhund is impossibly missing. Why does the aroma of coffee make Mayhap feel like she’s smothering? Who’s the sudden fourth girl in the house, and what has she woven out of “dirt and bats’ lungs…the darkness of the sky and the silk of the moon…[and]…coffee”? Chewins’ prose is exquisite, her eerie concepts heart-wrenching. All characters are White.

Superb, spooky, and unforgettable. (Fantasy/horror. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1227-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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REFUGEE

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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