A tender and affecting coming-of age story. (Fiction. 10-14)

THE THINGS OWEN WROTE

Owen’s loving relationship with his grandfather Neville is moving in an unexpected and unwelcome direction.

Neville has decided that he should send back to Iceland the medal that his now-deceased friend received for his sensitive translation of the works of Icelandic-Canadian farmer/poet Stephan G. Stephansson. He makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to travel—immediately—to Iceland, and Owen willingly comes along. The trouble is that Neville is becoming increasingly confused (to the extent that readers may find it surprising that Owen’s parents left the eighth-grader in his care). Owen has a good reason to accompany Neville on the trip: his grandfather accidentally sent Owen’s notebook there, and its contents are something the white boy doesn’t ever want anyone to see. The reason for his need for secrecy isn’t finally revealed until the conclusion of this gentle novel of love, loss, and self-fulfillment, all intertwining in Owen’s life. Owen initially rationalizes both Neville’s frequent missteps and his own character flaw, but it all finally becomes impossible to ignore. The present-tense, third-person narrative primarily focuses on Owen’s point of view, permitting a believable and nuanced exploration of his emerging self-awareness. Owen, Neville, and Owen’s dead but much-missed grandmother Aileen are fully realized characters. Even the (real) poet Stephansson emerges from the pages of this quiet tale.

A tender and affecting coming-of age story. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-77306-029-3

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Longing—for connection, for family, for a voice—roars to life with just a touch of magic.

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WHEN YOU TRAP A TIGER

A young girl bargaining for the health of her grandmother discovers both her family’s past and the strength of her own voice.

For many years, Lily’s Korean grandmother, Halmoni, has shared her Asian wisdom and healing powers with her predominantly White community. When Lily, her sister, Sam—both biracial, Korean and White—and their widowed mom move in with Halmoni to be close with her as she ages, Lily begins to see a magical tiger. What were previously bedtime stories become dangerously prophetic, as Lily begins to piece together fact from fiction. There is no need for prior knowledge of Korean folktales, although a traditional Korean myth propels the story forward. From the tiger, Lily learns that Halmoni has bottled up the hard stories of her past to keep sadness at bay. Lily makes a deal with the tiger to heal her grandmother by releasing those stories. What she comes to realize is that healing doesn’t mean health and that Halmoni is not the only one in need of the power of storytelling. Interesting supporting characters are fully developed but used sparingly to keep the focus on the simple yet suspenseful plot. Keller infuses this tale, which explores both the end of life and coming-of-age, with a sensitive examination of immigration issues and the complexity of home. It is at one and the same time completely American and thoroughly informed by Korean culture.

Longing—for connection, for family, for a voice—roars to life with just a touch of magic. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-1570-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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