HANK’S STORY

Setting her story in 1923, Buchanan (Gratefully Yours, 1997, etc.) once again explores the plight of a parentless youngster sent by "orphan train" to rural Nebraska. Written simply but with great eloquence, Buchanan's third-person narrative captures the physical hardship and grim isolation of her protagonist's life. Twelve-year-old Hank lost his parents when he was only eight. He and his older brother Peter move in with the Olsons, a pair of mean-spirited farmers. Unable to bear the beatings by the cruel and usually drunk Mr. Olson, Peter runs away leaving his gentle, animal-loving brother defenseless and desperately lonely. Besides the grueling farm chores and his punitive foster parents, Hank must bear the daily cruelty from the kids at school, who laugh at his plight. In one of the novel's many heart-wrenching, gripping moments, Hank wonders why "children thought it was funny that he was an orphan, that his mother and father had died." An unlikely friendship with the town crazy lady/witch, a gentle soul named Molly, who rescues, then nurses, injured animals, reminds Hank that there is kindness in the world. When he finally attacks the school bully, Molly tells him that "that fighting never solved anything" and that if he uses his fists to solve problems, he could become a person like Mr. Olson. Hank eventually frees himself and comes to believe that the brutal man had power over him in part because he allowed it, hardly the circumstance for the majority of children who live with a violent alcoholic, but affecting nonetheless. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 10, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-32836-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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