The story shines in its conclusion, however, with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision...

THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY

There are no surprises here, but it’s a heartwarming and uplifting story nonetheless.

Auggie (short for August, after her grandfather, Gus, who is raising her) thinks her neighbors and neighborhood are perfect. As she rides around with Gus in Old Glory, his trash-hauling truck, she excitedly anticipates her first day of fifth grade at a new school in a different part of town. But when she gets there, she realizes that her beloved neighborhood is actually the poor part of town, and worse, she feels ashamed. As she wrestles with her feelings, which are exacerbated by the defection of her best friend to the rich side, Gus and several neighbors receive notices from the town’s House Beautification Committee stating that their properties are in violation. Auggie determines to fight back and with Gus’ unstinting help, turns their house and yard into a folk-art extravaganza. Further clashes with the committee follow. Auggie’s present-tense, first-person narration, rife with similes, often comes off sounding more contrived than quirky, and the story’s numerous characters function more as formulaic devices rather than individual personalities. Additionally, the storyline concerning Auggie’s absent mother seems more tangential than imperative, and its revelatory windup comes as no surprise. 

The story shines in its conclusion, however, with vibrant themes of community, self-empowerment and artistic vision delivered with a satisfying verve that forgives any predictability. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3725-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present

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AS BRAVE AS YOU

Eleven-year-old Brooklynite Genie has “worry issues,” so when he and his older brother, Ernie, are sent to Virginia to spend a month with their estranged grandparents while their parents “try to figure it all out,” he goes into overdrive.

First, he discovers that Grandpop is blind. Next, there’s no Internet, so the questions he keeps track of in his notebook (over 400 so far) will have to go un-Googled. Then, he breaks the model truck that’s one of the only things Grandma still has of his deceased uncle. And he and Ernie will have to do chores, like picking peas and scooping dog poop. What’s behind the “nunya bidness door”? And is that a gun sticking out from Grandpop’s waistband? Reynolds’ middle-grade debut meanders like the best kind of summer vacation but never loses sense of its throughline. The richly voiced third-person narrative, tightly focused through Genie’s point of view, introduces both brothers and readers to this rural African-American community and allows them to relax and explore even as it delves into the many mysteries that so bedevil Genie, ranging from "Grits? What exactly are they?" to, heartbreakingly, “Why am I so stupid?” Reynolds gives his readers uncommonly well-developed, complex characters, especially the completely believable Genie and Grandpop, whose stubborn self-sufficiency belies his vulnerability and whose flawed love both Genie and readers will cherish.

This pitch-perfect contemporary novel gently explores the past’s repercussions on the present . (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: May 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-1590-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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