Wry commentary and schoolboy machinations lighten but don’t mask the sour tone, and Sister Angelica’s free pass will likely...


An underachieving sixth-grader plots to “murderlate” a bullying nun in this darkly comic semiautobiographical novel.

The author claims it all happened, and he hasn’t changed any of the names either. Joining his 61 overwhelmingly white New Jersey classmates on the first day, Jim is singled out by Sister Angelica Rose, who treats his academic efforts with scorn and his every action with suspicion. Fueled also by the way she repeatedly puts his friend Philip, who stutters, on the spot in class, Jim’s anger swells to rage, and with a group of classmates he concocts an elaborate get-back prank. Meanwhile, the 1958-59 school year carries on through memories of school food (“The first item offered was always the brown soup”), a memorable visit from a black Sister of Charity who works with lepers in Hawaii, and a stage production in which Jim wears a banana suit and leads a dancing corps of similarly clad second-graders. Though the author puts his putative self in a good light at the end with a last-moment change of heart about the prank and, thanks to determined volunteer tutelage from a female classmate, improved study habits, sudden belated efforts to give Sister Angelica a few redeeming qualities come off as perfunctory at best.

Wry commentary and schoolboy machinations lighten but don’t mask the sour tone, and Sister Angelica’s free pass will likely leave readers feeling cheated. (Historical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-78677-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.


From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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A terrific premise buried beneath problem-novel tropes.


A gaggle of eighth graders find the coolest clubhouse ever.

Fulfilling the fantasies of anyone who’s ever constructed a fort in their bedroom or elsewhere, Korman hands his five middle schoolers a fully stocked bomb shelter constructed decades ago in the local woods by an eccentric tycoon and lost until a hurricane exposes the entrance. So, how to keep the hideout secret from interfering grown-ups—and, more particularly, from scary teen psychopath Jaeger Devlin? The challenge is tougher still when everyone in the central cast is saddled with something: C.J. struggles to hide injuries inflicted by the unstable stepdad his likewise abused mother persists in enabling; Jason is both caught in the middle of a vicious divorce and unable to stand up to his controlling girlfriend; Evan is not only abandoned by drug-abusing parents, but sees his big brother going to the bad thanks to Jaeger’s influence; Mitchell struggles with OCD–fueled anxieties and superstitions; and so forth. How to keep a story overtaxed with issues and conflicts from turning into a dreary slog? Spoiler alert: Neither the author nor his characters ultimately prove equal to the challenge. With the possible exception of Ricky Molina, one of the multiple narrators, everyone seems to be White.

A terrific premise buried beneath problem-novel tropes. (resources, author’s note) (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 28, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-338-62914-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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