An amusing and richly rewarding tale that features a very likable, one-of-kind protagonist.

ANNA WAS HERE

Anna, almost 10, is a worrier, so her family’s temporary move from Colorado to her father’s hometown in Kansas seems fraught with peril to her.

Founder of her own Safety Club (with just two remaining members), which is tasked with identifying potential dangers (including escape from a pyramid) and creating appropriate safety rules, Anna is nearly always prepared for any eventuality. But when her father, a minister, receives a call to straighten out a church in Oakwood, Kan., where many of the residents are his relatives, she’s unprepared and decides the best way to handle things is to “stay folded up” and studiously avoid getting settled in the new town. She manages to keep from starting school, doesn’t get too friendly with her large extended family, tries to keep her cat inside and skips out on Sunday school. However, her growing attachment to that family—and a tornado sweeping through town—gives her an opportunity to see things differently. Anna’s internal voice is pitch-perfect, and her pithy safety rules and ability to connect the dots between religion and life are often hilarious. She imagines an encounter with a troublesome neighbor: “I was standing there frizzy with light, shouting, ‘I’m not just a girl, you know. The angel Gabriel is basically my best friend.’ ”

An amusing and richly rewarding tale that features a very likable, one-of-kind protagonist. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-056493-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot.

A GALAXY OF SEA STARS

In sixth grade, Izzy Mancini’s cozy, loving world falls apart.

She and her family have moved out of the cottage she grew up in. Her mother has spent the summer on Block Island instead of at home with Izzy. Her father has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan partially paralyzed and traumatized. The only people she can count on are Zelda and Piper, her best friends since kindergarten—that is, until the Haidary family moves into the upstairs apartment. At first, Izzy resents the new guests from Afghanistan even though she knows she should be grateful that Dr. Haidary saved her father’s life. But despite her initial resistance (which manifests at times as racism), as Izzy gets to know Sitara, the Haidarys’ daughter, she starts to question whether Zelda and Piper really are her friends for forever—and whether she has the courage to stand up for Sitara against the people she loves. Ferruolo weaves a rich setting, fully immersing readers in the largely white, coastal town of Seabury, Rhode Island. Disappointingly, the story resolves when Izzy convinces her classmates to accept Sitara by revealing the Haidarys’ past as American allies, a position that put them in so much danger that they had to leave home. The idea that Sitara should be embraced only because her family supported America, rather than simply because she is a human being, significantly undermines the purported message of tolerance for all.

A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-30909-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

INFINITE COUNTRY

A 15-year-old girl in Colombia, doing time in a remote detention center, orchestrates a jail break and tries to get home.

"People say drugs and alcohol are the greatest and most persuasive narcotics—the elements most likely to ruin a life. They're wrong. It's love." As the U.S. recovers from the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, from the misery of separations on the border, from both the idea and the reality of a wall around the United States, Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read. Weaving Andean myth and natural symbolism into her narrative—condors signify mating for life, jaguars revenge; the embattled Colombians are "a singed species of birds without feathers who can still fly"; children born in one country and raised in another are "repotted flowers, creatures forced to live in the wrong habitat"—she follows Talia, the youngest child, on a complex journey. Having committed a violent crime not long before she was scheduled to leave her father in Bogotá to join her mother and siblings in New Jersey, she winds up in a horrible Catholic juvie from which she must escape in order to make her plane. Hence the book's wonderful first sentence: "It was her idea to tie up the nun." Talia's cross-country journey is interwoven with the story of her parents' early romance, their migration to the United States, her father's deportation, her grandmother's death, the struggle to reunite. In the latter third of the book, surprising narrative shifts are made to include the voices of Talia's siblings, raised in the U.S. This provides interesting new perspectives, but it is a little awkward to break the fourth wall so late in the book. Attention, TV and movie people: This story is made for the screen.

The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

Pub Date: yesterday

ISBN: 978-1-982159-46-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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This delightful series opener is an exciting blend of Russian and Jewish traditions

ANYA AND THE DRAGON

A Jewish girl meets dragons in a fantastical version of Kievan Rus’, where magic has been illegal for 10 years.

Anya’s the only Jewish child in Zmeyreka. In the mostly Christian 10th-century village, Anya’s family stands out: Her father’s father remains pagan, while her mother’s people are refugee Khazars and Mountain Jews. But unbeknownst to Anya, her village is not like the rest of Kievan Rus’. Magical creatures are nearly extinct everywhere else but common in Zmeyreka. The tsar’s sent a “fool family”—users of fool magic, authorized to use magic despite the ban—to capture the last dragon in the land. The youngest fool is Anya’s age (he’s named Ivan, just like his seven older brothers), and the two become fast friends. But can Anya really bring herself to help Ivan kill a dragon that hasn’t harmed anyone? Zmeyreka’s magical creatures are both helpful and frightening; there are dragons, leshiye, vodyaniye, and even a Jewish domovoi with a little kippah. Ivan, unlike his pale father and brothers, is dark-skinned like his mother, a princess from “far to the east.” Though historical accuracy isn’t perfect (Anya anticipates her bat mitzvah, for instance, and reads Hebrew), it is a fantasy, and anachronisms don’t detract from the adventures of truly likable characters in this original setting.

This delightful series opener is an exciting blend of Russian and Jewish traditions . (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-358-00607-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Versify/HMH

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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