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STUCK

Compellingly conveys the experience of living with an invisible, stigmatized disability.

Moving and changing schools frequently has allowed fourth grader Austin to conceal his inability to read—and prevented him from getting help.

Austin’s a large kid (repeating second grade didn’t help): shy, socially awkward, but quietly observant. Changing schools isn’t easy, but he’s learned what to expect, what’s expected of him, and how to handle it. Initially unresponsive when Bertie—a small, friendly classmate—appoints herself his guide, he slowly warms to her and the school while hiding his inability to decode letters that wave and wobble across the page. His ingenious workarounds include querying the “phone lady” (digital assistant) on his mom’s old phone, who answers questions and gives him a link to the audiobook he’s supposed to read. At school Austin’s especially impressed by the Safety Squad, a select cadre of fifth graders. Bertie encourages him to join. But how can he complete the application without disclosing his disability? While self-contained Austin projects the stoic resignation of children who’ve learned not to depend on adults, his troubled mom never comes into focus; how she supports them and why they move so frequently go unexplained. The parameters of Austin’s disability (or disabilities) are unclear. If his backstory is frustratingly thin, however, Austin himself is a fully realized character whose predicament, true and false assumptions, and choices ring true from beginning to end. Characters mostly present White; naming conventions suggest a diverse classroom.

Compellingly conveys the experience of living with an invisible, stigmatized disability. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-101-93294-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

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THE ONE AND ONLY FAMILY

From the One and Only series , Vol. 4

Not the most satisfying wrap-up, but it’s always good to spend time in the world of this series.

Beloved gorilla Ivan becomes a father to rambunctious twins in this finale to a quartet that began with 2012’s Newbery Award–winning The One and Only Ivan.

Life hasn’t always been easy for silverback gorilla Ivan, who’s spent most of his life being mistreated in captivity. Now he’s living in a wildlife sanctuary, but he still gets to see his two best friends. Young elephant Ruby lives in the grassy habitat next door, and former stray dog Bob has a home with one of the zookeepers. All three were rescued from the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. Ivan’s expanded world includes fellow gorilla Kinyani—the two are about to become parents, and Ivan is revisiting the traumas of his past in light of what he wants the twins to know. When the subject inevitably comes up, Applegate’s trust and respect for readers is evident. She doesn’t shy away from hard truths as Ivan wrestles with the fact that poachers killed his family. Readers will need the context provided by knowledge of the earlier books to feel the full emotional impact of this story. The rushed ending unfortunately falls flat, detracting from the central message that a complex life can still contain hope. Final art not seen.

Not the most satisfying wrap-up, but it’s always good to spend time in the world of this series. (gorilla games, glossary, author’s note) (Verse fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780063221123

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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