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

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: Feb. 15, 2020

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A brisk, buffed-up finish threaded with inner and outer, not to mention sartorial, changes.

THE TOWER OF NERO

From the Trials of Apollo series , Vol. 5

In this tumultuous series closer, Apollo, transformed into a mortal teenager, takes on both a deified emperor in a luxurious Manhattan high-rise and an older adversary.

Lester/Apollo’s coast-to-coast quest reaches its climactic stage as, with help from both eager squads of fledgling demigods from Camp Half-Blood and reluctant allies from realms deep below New York, he invades the palatial lair of Emperor Nero—followed by a solo bout with another foe from a past struggle. Riordan lays on the transformation of the heedless, arrogant sun god to a repentant lover of his long-neglected semidivine offspring and of humanity in general, which has served as the series’ binding theme, thickly enough to have his humbled narrator even apologizing (twice!) to his underwear for having to change it periodically. Still, the author delivers a fast, action-driven plot with high stakes, lots of fighting, and occasional splashes of gore brightened by banter and silly bits, so readers aren’t likely to mind all the hand-wringing. He also leaves any real-life parallels to the slick, megalomaniacal, emotionally abusive Nero entirely up to readers to discern and dishes out just deserts all round, neatly tying up loose ends in a set of closing vignettes. The supporting cast is predominantly White, with passing mention of diverse representation.

A brisk, buffed-up finish threaded with inner and outer, not to mention sartorial, changes. (glossary) (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4645-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2020

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