With plenty of threads to hang sequels from, this series opener will make readers roar for more.

NOTHING BUT TROUBLE

Sixth-grader and budding engineer Maggie Gallagher occupies her fertile mind and connects to the father who survives only in her head by planning and executing elaborate pranks at school.

Maggie’s father pulled notorious pranks while in college at MIT. He died before she was born, leaving only a box of notebooks describing his hacks in meticulous detail. She re-creates them at Odawahaka Middle School using money earned from secretly selling her grandfather’s vintage car parts on the internet. Maggie dreams of nothing more than leaving her dysfunctional family and getting out of her dying small town until dadaist new student Lena Polachev chooses her as a friend. Together they become an unstoppable force against the school’s new dictatorial principal. The story is full of stylish and satisfying pranks, some chronicled step by step and others simply mentioned. Toy cars spill out of lockers, ping-pong balls rain down on the principal, school banners are reworded. Where Wildcats ruled, the Mouse is in the house, and what was simply funny becomes a revolution bringing much-needed change to a depressed, evidently all-white community. A vividly realized present-day setting, distinctive, believable characters, subversive humor, and a satisfying ending give this title solid kid appeal.

With plenty of threads to hang sequels from, this series opener will make readers roar for more. (activities) (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-236988-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

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

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. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Problem-solving through perseverance and friendship is the real win in this deeply smart and inspiring story.

SWIM TEAM

Leaving Brooklyn behind, Black math-whiz and puzzle lover Bree starts a new life in Florida, where she’ll be tossed into the deep end in more ways than one. Keeping her head above water may be the trickiest puzzle yet.

While her dad is busy working and training in IT, Bree struggles at first to settle into Enith Brigitha Middle School, largely due to the school’s preoccupation with swimming—from the accomplishments of its namesake, a Black Olympian from Curaçao, to its near victory at the state swimming championships. But Bree can’t swim. To illustrate her anxiety around this fact, the graphic novel’s bright colors give way to gray thought bubbles with thick, darkened outlines expressing Bree’s deepest fears and doubts. This poignant visual crowds some panels just as anxious feelings can crowd the thoughts of otherwise star students like Bree. Ultimately, learning to swim turns out to be easy enough with the help of a kind older neighbor—a Black woman with a competitive swimming past of her own as well as a rich and bittersweet understanding of Black Americans’ relationship with swimming—who explains to Bree how racist obstacles of the past can become collective anxiety in the present. To her surprise, Bree, with her newfound water skills, eventually finds herself on the school’s swim team, navigating competition, her anxiety, and new, meaningful relationships.

Problem-solving through perseverance and friendship is the real win in this deeply smart and inspiring story. (Graphic fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-305677-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperAlley

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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