This solid middle-grade book shines with wisdom and compassion.

THE SECRET OF GOLDENROD

A young girl and her father, both white, move into a run-down mansion that is reputed to be haunted.

When almost-11-year-old Trina Maxwell’s father takes a job to restore a decrepit Queen Anne mansion known as Goldenrod on the outskirts of New Royal, Iowa (population 397), Trina isn’t thrilled. It’s another move in a lifetime of moves since her mother left nearly eight years ago, and besides, the house is spooky. Things don't get better when Trina enters the fifth grade at the new school, since her classmates have known one another since kindergarten and don’t seem to welcome a newcomer—especially one that lives at Goldenrod. When Trina discovers an old dollhouse and a surprising doll in the mansion’s turret room, she begins to research the first occupants of the house, which include a little girl, Annie, the original owner of the doll. In a pitch-perfect, third-person narration, Trina discovers why the townspeople fear Goldenrod, even as her own fears subside when she realizes the house is trying to tell her something. O’Reilly’s multilayered story is superbly presented. Loss, acceptance, coming together to accomplish goals, facing fears, and overcoming rejection are all bathed in the golden light that is the richness of living.

This solid middle-grade book shines with wisdom and compassion. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5124-0135-6

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.

THE AMBROSE DECEPTION

A mysterious scholarship contest launches this middle-grade mystery.

The action begins when three Chicago middle schoolers—Bondi Johnson, a black boy; Wilf Samson, a white boy; and Melissa Burris, a white girl—are selected to compete in the Kaplin/Baron scholarship contest. No one at the three students’ schools has heard of this scholarship, and even stranger, none of these students is known for exemplary academics. In fact, they are better known for scheming, daydreaming, and schmoozing. The scholarship rules appear straightforward: untangle the clues, provide a photo of each, and win $10,000. With these guidelines, a provided cellphone, a personal driver, and a no-strings-attached debit card, each student is ready to tackle the task. Bondi attacks his clues with diligence; Melissa, though suspicious, enjoys the chase; Wilf would rather cross items off his bucket list than solve the riddles. When the hunt for clues draws to an end, Bondi, Melissa, and Wilf discover there is another mystery surrounding this scholarship and the money, leading them to band together to unravel the remaining clues and unearth the truth before the $10,000 slips out of their hands. In the tradition of The Westing Game or Chasing Vermeer, this is a plot-driven brainteaser centered on Chicago landmarks and Chicago history. The twists and turns are well-paced and believable, and transcripts of texts, emails, and letters within the chapters add dimension to the strong cast of secondary characters.

A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-8838-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice.

FROM THE DESK OF ZOE WASHINGTON

After receiving a letter from her incarcerated father, whom she’s never met, 12-year-old Zoe sets out to prove his innocence.

It’s the summer before seventh grade, and aspiring pastry chef Zoe sets her sights on perfecting her baking skills to audition as a contestant on Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. One day, she receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who was sent to prison for murder right before Zoe was born. She’s never met Marcus, and her mother wants her to have nothing to do with him. So Zoe keeps the letter a secret and begins corresponding with Marcus on a regular basis. He shares his favorite songs and encourages Zoe’s baking-competition dreams. When Marcus proclaims his innocence, Zoe is shocked: How could someone innocent end up in prison? With the help of her grandmother and her friend Trevor, Zoe begins to learn about systemic racism and how Black people like her and Marcus are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than White people. Zoe’s relationship with Marcus is at the center of the novel, but her relationships with her mother, stepfather, grandmother, and Trevor are also richly conveyed. This powerful debut packs both depth and sweetness, tackling a tough topic in a sensitive, compelling way.

An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287585-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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