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LOVE, PENELOPE

Though clearly well-intentioned, this middle-grade novel seems unlikely to find an enthusiastic audience.

Fifth-grader Penelope Bach records her thoughts and experiences in a series of letters to her unborn sibling.

Penny, a white girl being raised by two mothers in Oakland, California, tracks the performance of her hometown basketball team, anguishes over a school assignment, struggles with changing friendships, and records the progress of her mother’s pregnancy. As the months pass, she learns a lot about the Ohlone, the local Native American tribe with which her nonbiological mother, Sammy, is affiliated, while simultaneously trying to trace her biological parents’ family histories. She also deals with prejudice because of her two moms and sees firsthand the racism that her Jamaican best friend, Gabby, and Gabby’s older brother (Penny’s secret crush) face. While Rocklin tackles important and topical issues, Penny’s voice and characterization are underdeveloped and thus overwhelmed by the messages she delivers. Other characters are similarly flat, making it difficult to become invested in their interactions, and dialogue is often stilted. Limited description keeps the setting from coming to life, while emotions and reactions are listed rather than evoked. Knisley’s black-and-white spot drawings range from depictions of the developing fetus to Penny’s teacher’s novelty ties. Many add humor and interest but can’t compensate for the text’s flaws.

Though clearly well-intentioned, this middle-grade novel seems unlikely to find an enthusiastic audience. (author’s note, bibliography, list of organizations) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4197-2861-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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MILLIONAIRES FOR THE MONTH

Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable.

A reward of $5,000,000 almost ruins everything for two seventh graders.

On a class trip to New York City, Felix and Benji find a wallet belonging to social media billionaire Laura Friendly. Benji, a well-off, chaotic kid with learning disabilities, swipes $20 from the wallet before they send it back to its owner. Felix, a poor, shy, rule-follower, reluctantly consents. So when Laura Friendly herself arrives to give them a reward for the returned wallet, she’s annoyed. To teach her larcenous helpers a lesson, Laura offers them a deal: a $20,000 college scholarship or slightly over $5 million cash—but with strings attached. The boys must spend all the money in 30 days, with legal stipulations preventing them from giving anything away, investing, or telling anyone about it. The glorious windfall quickly grows to become a chore and then a torment as the boys appear increasingly selfish and irresponsible to the adults in their lives. They rent luxury cars, hire a (wonderful) philosophy undergrad as a chauffeur, take their families to Disney World, and spend thousands on in-app game purchases. Yet, surrounded by hedonistically described piles of loot and filthy lucre, the boys long for simpler fundamentals. The absorbing spending spree reads like a fun family film, gleefully stuffed with the very opulence it warns against. Major characters are White.

Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable. (mathematical explanations) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-17525-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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THE BAD BEGINNING

The Baudelaire children—Violet, 14, Klaus, 12, and baby Sunny—are exceedingly ill-fated; Snicket extracts both humor and horror from their situation, as he gleefully puts them through one terrible ordeal after another. After receiving the news that their parents died in a fire, the three hapless orphans are delivered into the care of Count Olaf, who “is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed.” The villainous Count Olaf is morally depraved and generally mean, and only takes in the downtrodden yet valiant children so that he can figure out a way to separate them from their considerable inheritance. The youngsters are able to escape his clutches at the end, but since this is the first installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there will be more ghastly doings. Written with old-fashioned flair, this fast-paced book is not for the squeamish: the Baudelaire children are truly sympathetic characters who encounter a multitude of distressing situations. Those who enjoy a little poison in their porridge will find it wicked good fun. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-440766-7

Page Count: 162

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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