Readers will fall in love with Rinnie; Baskin has crafted a beautiful story about the complexities of family, self-respect...

PAINT ME A MONSTER

Baskin’s first novel spans 13 years in the life of an artistic girl torn between perfection and loving herself as she is.

Three-year-old Margo renames herself Rinnie after Rin Tin Tin, “the smartest, fastest, strongest dog in the world.” Rinnie’s family appears to be the perfect wealthy nuclear family of the 1950s, complete with housekeeper and cook, but life in the Gardener home—particularly Rinnie’s—is far from idyllic. Her younger brother is coddled and her older sister held up as an example, while Rinnie, the “monster,” struggles for their mother’s love and approval. After her parents divorce, her brother moves in with Dad, leaving Rinnie and her sister to stay behind to endure Mom’s abuse, often aimed at Rinnie. As Rinnie loses control, she restricts her food intake and keeps track of every bite, convincingly chronicled in her obsessive, present-tense narration. If she can be perfect, she’ll reclaim her parents’ love. The school counselor encourages 16-year-old Rinnie to trust herself to save herself, and with his help, Rinnie paints the monsters of her past to begin the journey toward a future of hope, trust and freedom. Rinnie’s voice is honest and unflinching, gradually maturing from a 3-year-old’s singsong to that of a well-spoken, intelligent teenager.

Readers will fall in love with Rinnie; Baskin has crafted a beautiful story about the complexities of family, self-respect and human connection. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62324-018-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scarlet Voyage/Enslow

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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Earnest and bighearted but too pat overall.

Shaky Man

Set in Texas in the 1960s, this YA novel teaches tolerance through the experiences of its young protagonist and narrator, “Tops” Parsley.

In his short debut novel, writer Parker gives us Tops; his friends Mickey Jackson, Joe Ellis, and Rex Johnson; and Shaky Man, named for his inherited palsy. The story—but for the court scenes in Waco—takes place in the idyllic town of Tonkaway on Tonkaway Creek. The boys are crazy for baseball and other sports; Sunday means church, etc.—but there is a skunk in this woodpile. Two, in fact. One is the intolerance shown to Shaky Man, whom the kids have made into a boogeyman who lives alone and reputedly starves his dogs and eats children (!). Shaky Man is in fact poor material for an ogre or even a curmudgeon. He is a man with a tragic past who welcomes kids rather than eating them. The other, more serious, issue is Mickey’s African-American skin. Again, most of the characters haven’t a prejudiced bone in their bodies, but there are those—“knuckleheads” Tops’ dad calls them—who are not so enlightened. This comes to a head when Mickey’s dad, a janitor at Baylor, discovers the body of a murdered professor and of course becomes the prime suspect. Things look really grim until Shaky Man, who is really Dr. Walter Boone, a retired doctor with a forensic specialty, testifies for the defense. A hung jury saves Leonard Jackson until the real culprit is found and convicted. Some young readers may be moved by the book, the period touches (e.g., Star Trek and Wild Kingdom on the TV) are fun (although Mr. Spock is mistakenly given a doctor’s title), and Tops is well-drawn. But it’s borderline incredible that the kids could make a boogeyman out of Dr. Boone (see above), and as to the trial of Mickey’s father, in the Texas of 60 years ago, sadly, he would more likely have been railroaded than exonerated.

Earnest and bighearted but too pat overall.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61254-862-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Brown Books Kids

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

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Surprisingly heartfelt. (Fiction. 14-16)

PLAY ME BACKWARDS

In his final year of high school, Leon must choose between maintaining his comfortable existence or blowing it all up to chase something greater. 

Leon is on track to do nothing extraordinary with his life. He works at the local ice cream shop alongside his best friend, Stan, and hangs out with the screwballs and weirdos that come in. The gang shuns such bourgeois drudgery as the SATs and college applications in favor of typical teenage tomfoolery, but there’s a fine line between a smart, bored kid and a burnout. Leon is the former. When a few moments of chance bring him and popular girl Paige together, Leon begins to shake out of his slacker stupor. This is a particularly smart and sweet teenage love story, refusing to rely on burning passion or overwrought sentiment. There’s an emotional maturity in the way Selzer draws Leon and Paige’s courtship. It is by far the best part of the book. Less engaging are the peripheral characters, particularly Stan, a kid who believes that he’s the devil himself. The character and his influence on the story just don’t work, and time spent with him feels wasted when it could be spent elsewhere. Leon’s journey to personal responsibility is another topic well-tackled, making this an engaging, character-driven piece with several pros that mightily outweigh the cons. 

Surprisingly heartfelt. (Fiction. 14-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4814-0104-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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