WHAT HAPPENED ON PLANET KID

Twelve-year-old Dawn spends an anxious summer with rural Virginia relatives in this tale of secrets and secret places set in the 1950s. Down from DC while her mother recuperates from joint replacement, Dawn practices her curve ball against the barn, follows the exploits of her hero, fellow pitcher Camilo Pascual, and hangs out with Charlotte Williams, a deacon's peppery daughter, and quiet Delbert, from the “colored camp.” The three have a private, weed-hidden spot they have dubbed Planet Kid. There are clouds in these sunny childhood skies, however—Charlotte hints that her father is not one to spare the rod, but the bruises and welts that Dawn begins to notice on Charlotte's mother and other family members point toward a harsher truth. Dawn's suspicions are confirmed when she sees Mr. Williams knock one of his sons down, and later finds the boy, beaten senseless, hidden away from his father in a concealed barn room. It's an open secret, but as everyone but Dawn understands, the impoverished Williamses are caught between a rock and a hard place; when Dawn breaks her promise to Charlotte not to tell, even her gentle Great Aunt changes the subject. At summer's end Dawn determinedly sells her prized baseball card collection, sending the money to Mrs. Williams as an incentive to move out with the children—a faint hope, as even her loving parents warn. There are no easy solutions here; but with her baseball prowess and deep-rooted compassion, Dawn makes an admirable protagonist, backed by a diverse, sometimes entertainingly, quirky supporting cast. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8050-6065-0

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY

From the Joey Pigza series , Vol. 1

If Rotten Ralph were a boy instead of a cat, he might be Joey, the hyperactive hero of Gantos's new book, except that Joey is never bad on purpose. In the first-person narration, it quickly becomes clear that he can't help himself; he's so wound up that he not only practically bounces off walls, he literally swallows his house key (which he wears on a string around his neck and which he pull back up, complete with souvenirs of the food he just ate). Gantos's straightforward view of what it's like to be Joey is so honest it hurts. Joey has been abandoned by his alcoholic father and, for a time, by his mother (who also drinks); his grandmother, just as hyperactive as he is, abuses Joey while he's in her care. One mishap after another leads Joey first from his regular classroom to special education classes and then to a special education school. With medication, counseling, and positive reinforcement, Joey calms down. Despite a lighthearted title and jacket painting, the story is simultaneously comic and horrific; Gantos takes readers right inside a human whirlwind where the ride is bumpy and often frightening, especially for Joey. But a river of compassion for the characters runs through the pages, not only for Joey but for his overextended mom and his usually patient, always worried (if only for their safety) teachers. Mature readers will find this harsh tale softened by unusual empathy and leavened by genuinely funny events. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-33664-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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A patchy tale flickering repeatedly from light to dark and back.

TWAIN'S TREASURE

From the Phantom Files series

Alex’s ability to talk with ghosts puts him in famous company when he and his mom move to Hannibal, Missouri.

Alex, 13, is driven by bitter determination to keep his lifelong ability secret, since it’s already led to a diagnosis of schizophrenia that drove his parents apart and cost his mother a decent job, but it’s not easy. For one thing, his new friend, Bones, is a positively obsessed amateur ghost hunter, and for another, ghosts just won’t leave him alone no matter how rudely he treats them. Notable among the latter is Mark Twain himself, as acerbic and wily as he was in life, who is on the verge of involuntarily degenerating into a raging poltergeist unless Alex can find the unspecified, titular treasure. Alex’s search takes him through Clemens’ writings and tragic private life as well as many of the town’s related attractions on the way to a fiery climax in the public library. Meanwhile, Alex has an apotheosis of his own, deciding that lying to conceal his ability and his unhappy past isn’t worth the sacrifice of a valued friendship. Conveniently for the plot’s needs, Clemens and other ghosts can interact with the physical world at will. Wolfe parlays Alex’s ingrained inability to ignore ectoplasmic accosters into some amusing cross-conversations that help lighten his protagonist’s hard inner tests. The cast, living and otherwise, presents as white.

A patchy tale flickering repeatedly from light to dark and back. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-940924-29-8

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Dreaming Robot

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2018

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