A thoughtful and entertaining look at both sides of the bullying dynamic.

BULLIES AND PEEPS

Two girls struggle with rivalries and self-acceptance in this debut middle-grade novel.

Even before the school year begins, fifth grader Hannah Hardy has been plotting revenge against her classmate Meg Greene for a pointed remark she made last spring break. Hannah also looks down on Meg for her messy hair and unfashionable clothes. Hannah’s goal is to make Meg “sad and lonely” by getting her friend Alexis Martinez to drop her through the tempting prospect of entry into the bully’s popular group. Hannah’s scheme works, but that’s not enough when Meg annoys her further on the first day of school by noticing geese nesting in the courtyard. The school makes the area off-limits, foiling Hannah’s plans to sit on the courtyard’s benches at recess. Hannah steps up her bullying; she calls Meg “Goose Girl,” a name that catches on. But Hannah doesn’t have things all her own way. First, classmate Jack Eddy defends Meg, and teachers help her. Hannah gets in trouble for her behavior, and Meg rescues a gosling that she names Garrett. To Hannah’s disgust, Meg starts becoming more popular than she is. After a showdown, both girls come to recognize that they have opportunities for self-improvement. In his book, Suhre uses alternating point-of-view chapters, each with an authentic voice, to give insights into both the bully’s and the victim’s perspectives. For example, Meg comes to admit that not brushing her hair or wearing clean clothes “made me a bigger target.” Hannah, it develops, has several reasons for her behavior and has some admirable gifts as well. Realistically, the girls aren’t meant to be best pals, but a mature detente is possible. In addition, the goose family provides a nice metaphor for growing up, with fledglings learning to spread their wings.

A thoughtful and entertaining look at both sides of the bullying dynamic.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73559-870-3

Page Count: 172

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2021

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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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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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THE ONE AND ONLY BOB

Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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