An ambitious debut that may leave some readers scrambling to keep pace.

PEASPROUT CHEN

FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD

A 14-year-old girl intends to become a legend of wu liu, the “beautiful and deadly art of martial skating!”

As an emissary in a goodwill exchange and the first Shinian student to attend Pearl Famous Academy of Skate and Sword, Peasprout knows the stakes are high. All she has to do is outrank all of her peers, protect her little brother, Cricket, and prove that she’s not behind the mysterious attacks on campus buildings. She should be up to the task (“I’m the smartest, most capable person I know”), but all is not quite as it seems. Lien fills this Asian-inspired fantasy world with such richly layered histories and landscapes that readers may feel lost at points; some may find themselves searching for supporting materials to contextualize the political intrigue, though they will be grateful for the academy map. The narrative’s swift pace and suspense should help keep utter confusion at bay, though, and vividly described wu liu sequences capture the exuberance and energy of the imagined sport. Although most characters, including Peasprout, evolve unevenly but predictably, reticent classmate Doi strikes out on her own, overturning several tropes. In this children’s novel where all of the characters are presumably Asian or some fantasy equivalent, relationships portrayed are both refreshing and essential.

An ambitious debut that may leave some readers scrambling to keep pace. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-16569-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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