A good choice for middle-grade readers looking for something smart and scary.

TALES FROM BEYOND THE BRAIN

Thirteen short stories to creep out kids.

Fans of Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark looking for a modern spin will find exactly what they want in this offering. Typical trials and tribulations in children’s lives are twisted toward the uncanny, as when a popcorn kernel lodged between Jamie’s teeth turns into a mouthful of twisted fangs with minds of their own. Or when a paper airplane accidentally cuts a hole in reality. Hughes’moody black-and-white illustrations highlight disturbing moments in each story, drawing easy parallels to Stephen Gammell’s nightmare-inducing artwork that accompanies Alvin Schwartz’s classic. Each story is between 10 and 20 pages, making the volume easy to put down at bedtime or pick up in the light of day, though this brevity means that characterization and emotional depth are sacrificed in exchange for action and chills. None of the characters are explicitly racialized, implying the white default, and all of the scenarios feel firmly and nondescriptly middle-class. Readers will get an additional thrill when they realize that many of these stories don’t have endings, and they may find themselves looking askance at the next stray cat or grumpy bus driver.

A good choice for middle-grade readers looking for something smart and scary. (Horror. 8-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4598-2079-1

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards.

BEST NERDS FOREVER

Two young ghosts with unfinished business in this world join forces.

Eighth grade cyclist Finn McAllister decides to undertake a search for the supposedly crazed driver who forced him off the road and over a cliff to his death, but he spends far more of his time attending his own funeral, hovering near his grieving family and his four besties to overhear conversations, and floating through school—skipping the girls’ restroom because he still has some standards—and positively hammering on the realization that wasting any of life’s opportunities can only lead to regret. He discovers that he can still taste ice cream, smell farts, skip stones in the local lake, and use a TV remote. He can also share thoughts with both the living and with Isabella Rojas, the ghost of a classmate who vanished several months previously but is still hanging around, although she is not sure why. Eventually, in a massively contrived climax that leaves both souls ready to move on, Finn comes up with a scheme to produce proof of Isabella’s death to bring closure to her mother and also absolves his hit-and-run driver of fault (for a reason readers will see coming). In this outing, the usually dynamic duo throws together an aimless ramble around a set of flimsy mysteries that fail to coalesce. Finn reads as White; Isabella is cued as Latinx. Final illustrations not seen.

Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards. (Paranormal fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-50024-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/HMH Books

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

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