A haunting tale that brings the traumatic aftermath of family violence into focus with unsparing clarity.

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A GAME OF FOX & SQUIRRELS

A preteen confronts the child abuse that’s shaped her world through a mysterious game, alluring and terrifying, with rules that are all too familiar.

After Sam, 11, panicked and revealed the child abuse that left older sister Caitlin with a broken arm, the girls were sent to live with Aunt Vicky and her wife, Hannah, in rural Oregon. (The girls and their aunt are white; Hannah has a Chinese surname.) While Caitlin, 13, gratefully adapts, Sam wants only to return to their parents. A gift from Vicky, the Game of Fox & Squirrels, could help with that. The squirrels and fox on the cards, she discovers, have real-life counterparts. The flamboyant fox Ashander feeds Sam’s hopes, testing her loyalty; she must earn her right to go home. What begins as a hero’s journey degenerates into cruel demands. His minions, three timid squirrels, urge Sam to placate him, but she realizes she must look elsewhere to find courage to resist. Sam moves between the game world—with its chillingly familiar rules and seductive, but invariably broken, promises—and the real, but unfamiliar, world of peaceable, dependable adults. Reese’s pairing of a realistic depiction of lived trauma with its allegorical-fantasy reflection proves stunningly effective in conveying PTSD. The abuse is portrayed indirectly, through its long-term effect on victims. Fear digs deep grooves in the psyche—Sam and Caitlin are on perpetual alert. Beautifully written, this is no easy read; crucially, an author’s note addresses real-life abuse and directs readers to the book’s website, which offers resources for help.

A haunting tale that brings the traumatic aftermath of family violence into focus with unsparing clarity. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-24301-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: yesterday

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Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick.

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THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON

An elderly witch, a magical girl, a brave carpenter, a wise monster, a tiny dragon, paper birds, and a madwoman converge to thwart a magician who feeds on sorrow.

Every year Elders of the Protectorate leave a baby in the forest, warning everyone an evil Witch demands this sacrifice. In reality, every year, a kind witch named Xan rescues the babies and find families for them. One year Xan saves a baby girl with a crescent birthmark who accidentally feeds on moonlight and becomes “enmagicked.” Magic babies can be tricky, so Xan adopts little Luna herself and lovingly raises her, with help from an ancient swamp monster and a chatty, wee dragon. Luna’s magical powers emerge as her 13th birthday approaches. Meanwhile, Luna’s deranged real mother enters the forest to find her daughter. Simultaneously, a young carpenter from the Protectorate enters the forest to kill the Witch and end the sacrifices. Xan also enters the forest to rescue the next sacrificed child, and Luna, the monster, and the dragon enter the forest to protect Xan. In the dramatic denouement, a volcano erupts, the real villain attempts to destroy all, and love prevails. Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces. Luna has black eyes, curly, black hair, and “amber” skin.

Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61620-567-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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