Engaging and believably realistic, effectively combining both harrowing challenges and the support of caring...

THINGS THAT SURPRISE YOU

Starting middle school is especially challenging for white Emily, who finds her BFF, Hazel, drifting away, is irritated by her father’s new romance, and is distressed about the return of her older sister, Mina, from inpatient therapy for anorexia.

Hazel hasn’t just lost interest in all that the two former besties cared about; she’s actively demeaning and dismissive to Emily in the company of her new, cooler friends. Emily’s father seems to feel that she shouldn’t resent his new girlfriend’s prominent position in their lives—but she does, leaving Emily feeling guilty as well as angry. Mina’s many unresolved issues with food are realistically depicted; that she’ll continue to struggle is all but certain. Emily misses the easy relationship they once shared yet resents the way her sister’s anorexia has afflicted the whole family. Still, there are bright spots. Hector, an oft-bullied Latino boy, poignantly reaches out to Emily, who desperately needs a new friend. A few other kids and a perceptive teacher also offer support. While all of them help fill the gap, it takes Emily’s growing recognition of others’ suffering, related in her authentic voice, to put her own into a better perspective. As Mina’s best friend says, “Middle school blows.”

Engaging and believably realistic, effectively combining both harrowing challenges and the support of caring individuals—often absent in this trope—which makes this a fine read. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-243892-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay.

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GHOST

From the Track series , Vol. 1

Castle “Ghost” Cranshaw feels like he’s been running ever since his dad pulled that gun on him and his mom—and used it.

His dad’s been in jail three years now, but Ghost still feels the trauma, which is probably at the root of the many “altercations” he gets into at middle school. When he inserts himself into a practice for a local elite track team, the Defenders, he’s fast enough that the hard-as-nails coach decides to put him on the team. Ghost is surprised to find himself caring enough about being on the team that he curbs his behavior to avoid “altercations.” But Ma doesn’t have money to spare on things like fancy running shoes, so Ghost shoplifts a pair that make his feet feel impossibly light—and his conscience correspondingly heavy. Ghost’s narration is candid and colloquial, reminiscent of such original voices as Bud Caldwell and Joey Pigza; his level of self-understanding is both believably childlike and disarming in its perception. He is self-focused enough that secondary characters initially feel one-dimensional, Coach in particular, but as he gets to know them better, so do readers, in a way that unfolds naturally and pleasingly. His three fellow “newbies” on the Defenders await their turns to star in subsequent series outings. Characters are black by default; those few white people in Ghost’s world are described as such.

An endearing protagonist runs the first, fast leg of Reynolds' promising relay. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4814-5015-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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