A few missed notes don’t prevent this novel from delivering a satisfying story even if the tune is familiar.

THE MYSTWICK SCHOOL OF MUSICRAFT

A toe-tapping fantasy novel mixes music and mystery.

Aficionados of middle-grade fantasy may find the premise recognizable: A parentless 12-year-old with unusual magical gifts is summoned to attend an elite boarding school in order to hone their craft. What makes this, YA author Khoury’s middle-grade debut, stand out is the focus on a special type of magic involving spells cast by playing musical instruments. After narrowly being accepted into Mystwick to study Musicraft with the most talented musicians in the world, Amelia Jones must prove that she has what it takes to perform musical spells and secure her spot at the school—or risk expulsion. Amelia struggles with difficult classes, mountains of homework, plus a roommate who hates her, and she quickly learns that someone—or something—seems to have it out for her. Staying at Mystwick will be more difficult than she ever imagined. Amelia’s only hope is the music she knows she is capable of creating, but she must find the courage and confidence to play it. Frenna’s lightly cartoony grayscale illustrations bring some of the pivotal scenes to life. Sparse physical descriptions paired with student names from a variety of cultures seem like a missed opportunity to describe ethnic and racial diversity explicitly; Amelia is white. Victoria, a guitarist who uses a wheelchair, is a featured secondary character.

A few missed notes don’t prevent this novel from delivering a satisfying story even if the tune is familiar. (Fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-62563-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the...

TUCK EVERLASTING

At a time when death has become an acceptable, even voguish subject in children's fiction, Natalie Babbitt comes through with a stylistic gem about living forever. 

Protected Winnie, the ten-year-old heroine, is not immortal, but when she comes upon young Jesse Tuck drinking from a secret spring in her parents' woods, she finds herself involved with a family who, having innocently drunk the same water some 87 years earlier, haven't aged a moment since. Though the mood is delicate, there is no lack of action, with the Tucks (previously suspected of witchcraft) now pursued for kidnapping Winnie; Mae Tuck, the middle aged mother, striking and killing a stranger who is onto their secret and would sell the water; and Winnie taking Mae's place in prison so that the Tucks can get away before she is hanged from the neck until....? Though Babbitt makes the family a sad one, most of their reasons for discontent are circumstantial and there isn't a great deal of wisdom to be gleaned from their fate or Winnie's decision not to share it. 

However the compelling fitness of theme and event and the apt but unexpected imagery (the opening sentences compare the first week in August when this takes place to "the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning") help to justify the extravagant early assertion that had the secret about to be revealed been known at the time of the action, the very earth "would have trembled on its axis like a beetle on a pin." (Fantasy. 9-11)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1975

ISBN: 0312369816

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1975

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