This graphic offering has definite mainstream appeal but is all too familiar.

MIDDLE SCHOOL MISADVENTURES

How can a boy with no talent win a talent show?

Living with his single dad, Newell spends his days clowning around with his friends and avoiding his principal, Mr. Todd. After Newell misses a number of classes, Mr. Todd threatens that one more missed class will land him in summer school. When the inevitable happens, Newell is crushed. However, Mr. Todd throws him an implausible curveball: If Newell participates in the school talent show, he may be pardoned from the horror of spending his summer at school. After trying out a number of performance options, Newell realizes that he might not have any talents: How is he supposed to pull this off? This graphic offering hits all the notes young readers would expect in their humorous middle-grade fare: heaps of fart and puke jokes, a quick pace, and an upbeat ending alongside recognizably styled, brightly colored comic illustrations. Unfortunately, it feels a bit boilerplate with its unrelenting peppy tone, campy antics, and well-worn tropes. Newell’s nemesis is a know-it-all girl whose nefarious plotting predictably backfires, ultimately helping him. Newell and most of the other characters depicted present white, though Newell’s best friend, Collin, is a boy of color. Despite its overarching derivative feel, this should find an easy readership among fans of James Patterson’s I Funny or Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid.

This graphic offering has definite mainstream appeal but is all too familiar. (Graphic fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-41686-3

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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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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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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