A sympathetic portrayal of adolescent angst with a feel-good—if not entirely convincing—resolution.

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JELLY

Eleven-year-old Angelica hides her embarrassment about her size until a caring adult encourages her to express her thoughts and emotions freely.

Angelica, called Jelly, is the class clown. Known for doing impressions, she laughs off the occasional unkind remark from a classmate, then writes brief poems in her journal detailing the pain she feels. Although she talks about typical adolescent concerns with best friends Kayma and Sanvi, they, like her mother, are unaware of her inner turmoil. After a breakup with her current boyfriend, Jelly’s mom connects with Lennon, a guitar-playing songwriter. It’s Lennon who winds up being Jelly’s (somewhat unlikely) confidant and the one who gives her the confidence to share her innermost thoughts with family and friends. British author Cotterill packs a lot into this import. Jelly’s grandfather is a bully with old-fashioned (racist and misogynistic) values, and her aunt is coping with depression. Although it’s delicately handled, Jelly is well aware of her single mom’s sexual activity, a realistic touch that some may find disquieting. Jelly’s first-person narration is appropriately self-centered but also results in most characters appearing somewhat one-dimensional. Some Briticisms have been altered but others remain, creating a slightly off-kilter tone at times. Jelly, her family, and Lennon are white; Kayma and Sanvi are black and Indian, respectively; other racial and/or ethnic diversity is implied by some names but not explicitly acknowledged.

A sympathetic portrayal of adolescent angst with a feel-good—if not entirely convincing—resolution. (Fiction. 10-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4998-1006-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little Bee

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Readers of both genders will take to this original and hilarious story—so long as they do not still believe in Santa.

THE NAUGHTY LIST

A zany take on how Christmas happens aims straight for the middle-grade humor sweet spot.

The year her father moves to North Dakota pursuing an oil job, 12-year-old Bobbie Mendoza decides to ignore Christmas. Before this, Bobbie was a normal girl, but now she oozes ’tude: her favorite color is “black. Black goes with everything. Even me.” Among the other indignities of this year, the family’s inflatable Zombie Santa attacks Bobbie—resulting in a “stupid HOT PINK cast.” Bobbie’s decision to get younger brother Tad a 3D Mega Machine by any means necessary leads to her abduction by two elves, learning the truth about the evil keeper of the Naughty List, and discovering what Tad really wants for Christmas. Along the way Bobbie meets a less-than-admirable Santa in a North Pole redolent of refried beans, along with equally unconventional reindeer led by antler-sparking Larry (not the other one). The copious illustrations, black-and-white cartoons reminiscent of Fry’s comic strip, “Over the Hedge,” add fun, clarity, and (oddly enough) believability to the text. Despite the female main focus, boys will enjoy the story too.  References to butts, farts, and lead reindeer Larry’s incontinence will cause mirth and the occasional guffaw.

Readers of both genders will take to this original and hilarious story—so long as they do not still believe in Santa. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-235475-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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