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REEL LIFE

A realistic, moving chronicle of the evolving relationship between sisters.

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Two sisters travel a rocky path to self-fulfillment—watching some movies along the way—in this reflective debut novel.

Betty and Jamie, red-haired siblings just a year apart in age, don’t exactly share a sisterly bond. In an early scene, 9-year-old Betty wishes her younger sister “would pirouette right through the pane glass window.” Seconds later, Jamie injures herself in a fall, and Betty lets her writhe in pain for several minutes before calling for help. It’s an event that sets the tone for the sisters’ future relationship—there’s love between them, but it’s tempered by misunderstandings, jealousy and failures to connect. A difficult home life doesn’t make things easier: Their father is a frustrated actor turned therapist, their mother an ambitious career woman who leaves her husband for another man as her daughters enter adolescence. These formative experiences leave a deep impression, which is apparent as the sisters grow older and make decisions about motherhood, careers and romance. A complex relationship with their moody, troubled mom haunts them, and neither sibling can forgive her failings. Betty copes by overcompensating, embracing her maternal instinct (she has three children) and designing a line of baby clothes. Jamie’s relationship to motherhood is more complicated. Cancer treatments appear to have left her infertile, and her husband is adamant he doesn’t want children. The novel is episodic and shifts between the recent and more distant past. A different film provides the structure for each chapter to indicate both the era and the circumstances of the sisters’ lives—Little Darlings during their teen years in the early 1980s, Breaking the Waves in the mid-’90s when Betty sacrifices her dreams to support her husband’s career. Some of these references work better than others; readers may be more familiar with The Wizard of Oz or Hitchcock’s Vertigo than the less-memorable 1998 film Primary Colors, and the summary of movie plots occasionally distracts from the larger story. From Betty’s infidelity to a shocking revelation from Jamie’s husband, the sisters have plenty of their own drama without heading to the movies. But they grow wiser as they age, a trajectory that expands the novel’s emotional scope.

A realistic, moving chronicle of the evolving relationship between sisters.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0983791508

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Ripetta Press

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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JUPITER STORM

In more ways than one, a tale about young creatures testing their wings; a moving, entertaining winner.

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A fifth-grade New Orleans girl discovers a mysterious chrysalis containing an unexpected creature in this middle-grade novel.

Jacquelyn Marie Johnson, called Jackie, is a 10-year-old African-American girl, the second oldest and the only girl of six siblings. She’s responsible, smart, and enjoys being in charge; she likes “paper dolls and long division and imagining things she had never seen.” Normally, Jackie has no trouble obeying her strict but loving parents. But when her potted snapdragon acquires a peculiar egg or maybe a chrysalis (she dubs it a chrysalegg), Jackie’s strong desire to protect it runs up against her mother’s rule against plants in the house. Jackie doesn’t exactly mean to lie, but she tells her mother she needs to keep the snapdragon in her room for a science project and gets permission. Jackie draws the chrysalegg daily, waiting for something to happen as it gets larger. When the amazing creature inside breaks free, Jackie is more determined than ever to protect it, but this leads her further into secrets and lies. The results when her parents find out are painful, and resolving the problem will take courage, honesty, and trust. Dumas (Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest: Episode 5, 2017, etc.) presents a very likable character in Jackie. At 10, she’s young enough to enjoy playing with paper dolls but has a maturity that even older kids can lack. She’s resourceful, as when she wants to measure a red spot on the chrysalegg; lacking calipers, she fashions one from her hairpin. Jackie’s inward struggle about what to obey—her dearest wishes or the parents she loves—is one many readers will understand. The book complicates this question by making Jackie’s parents, especially her mother, strict (as one might expect to keep order in a large family) but undeniably loving and protective as well—it’s not just a question of outwitting clueless adults. Jackie’s feelings about the creature (tender and responsible but also more than a little obsessive) are similarly shaded rather than black-and-white. The ending suggests that an intriguing sequel is to come.

In more ways than one, a tale about young creatures testing their wings; a moving, entertaining winner.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-943169-32-0

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Plum Street Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

BROTHERS IN ARMS

BLUFORD HIGH SERIES #9

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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