Neither George’s experiences nor the author’s pedagogical additions offer much to engage readers’ hearts or minds.

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LETTERS FROM HILLSIDE FARM

Faint echoes of the middle volumes of the Little House series are all that animate this bland, Depression-era epistolary tale.

Apps opens with a superfluous introduction to his fictional family and their historical background and closes with two pages of letter-writing exercises. In between, he records five months of life on a Wisconsin farm. Although the family’s removal to the farm is triggered by the loss of the father’s factory job, hardship seems very far-off. During the period covered by the book, the weather is idyllic, money never seems tight (along with horses and heavy equipment, George’s father buys both a puppy, shipped in from a distant locale, and a retired circus pony), and not even the death of a cow or the dumping of a load of seed oats in a ditch results in any sort of setback. All is told via the correspondence between 12- (later 13-) year-old George Struckmeyer and his grandmother back in Cleveland. Grandma responds with eye-glazing platitudes (“What a Fourth of July celebration! Picnics are fun, aren’t they? And having one near a lake makes it even more fun”) to George’s long, polished accounts. He tells of social events, baseball games, getting the hay in, feeding a passing hobo and putting on an amateur circus in the barn, among other small adventures.

Neither George’s experiences nor the author’s pedagogical additions offer much to engage readers’ hearts or minds. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55591-998-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Fulcrum

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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A satisfying, winning read.

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BOOKED

Nick Hall is a bright eighth-grader who would rather do anything other than pay attention in class.

Instead he daydreams about soccer, a girl he likes, and an upcoming soccer tournament. His linguistics-professor father carefully watches his educational progress, requiring extra reading and word study, much to Nick’s chagrin and protest. Fortunately, his best friend, Coby, shares his passion for soccer—and, sadly, the unwanted attention of twin bullies in their school. Nick senses something is going on with his parents, but their announcement that they are separating is an unexpected blow: “it’s like a bombshell / drops / right in the center / of your heart / and it splatters / all across your life.” The stress leads to counseling, and his life is further complicated by injury and emergency surgery. His soccer dream derailed, Nick turns to the books he has avoided and finds more than he expected. Alexander’s highly anticipated follow-up to Newbery-winning The Crossover is a reflective narrative, with little of the first book’s explosive energy. What the mostly free-verse novel does have is a likable protagonist, great wordplay, solid teen and adult secondary characters, and a clear picture of the challenges young people face when self-identity clashes with parental expectations. The soccer scenes are vivid and will make readers wish for more, but the depiction of Nick as he unlocks his inner reader is smooth and believable.

A satisfying, winning read. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-544-57098-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot.

A GALAXY OF SEA STARS

In sixth grade, Izzy Mancini’s cozy, loving world falls apart.

She and her family have moved out of the cottage she grew up in. Her mother has spent the summer on Block Island instead of at home with Izzy. Her father has recently returned from military service in Afghanistan partially paralyzed and traumatized. The only people she can count on are Zelda and Piper, her best friends since kindergarten—that is, until the Haidary family moves into the upstairs apartment. At first, Izzy resents the new guests from Afghanistan even though she knows she should be grateful that Dr. Haidary saved her father’s life. But despite her initial resistance (which manifests at times as racism), as Izzy gets to know Sitara, the Haidarys’ daughter, she starts to question whether Zelda and Piper really are her friends for forever—and whether she has the courage to stand up for Sitara against the people she loves. Ferruolo weaves a rich setting, fully immersing readers in the largely white, coastal town of Seabury, Rhode Island. Disappointingly, the story resolves when Izzy convinces her classmates to accept Sitara by revealing the Haidarys’ past as American allies, a position that put them in so much danger that they had to leave home. The idea that Sitara should be embraced only because her family supported America, rather than simply because she is a human being, significantly undermines the purported message of tolerance for all.

A beautifully rendered setting enfolds a disappointing plot. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-30909-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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