A joyful approach to sports—“Yiz are playing a stormer out there”—and a salute to the importance of understanding history.

LEGENDS' LAIR

WHERE HISTORY IS MADE

O’Brien conjures an old Irish soccer pitch as the setting to settle an old, sentimental feud.

Although Charlie Stubbs’ family is about as tight as they come, there is friction between Charlie’s dad and his granddad. The Stubbses come from Dublin originally and now live in England, but circumstances conspire for them to return to Dublin to work in the family shop. The shop harbors some surprises, including a secret room containing a bag full of Granddad’s trophies and a prize antique ball signed by a great Irish footballer. The ball is a significant player in the story, and so are the birth and nurturing of friendships as well as the strange twists and turns of family. But what O’Brien captures so well is the aura of the game. He handles with aplomb the sheer fun of playing a game with grace, yet when he describes the now-decrepit field on which his granddad played—“the mossy and weedy Lair, with its rusted goal posts at each end,” the “patches of worn paint that once lined the legendary pitch”—he gets at the very roots of the game. O’Brien doesn’t avoid the bumps in the road but invests the story with a lightness that suggests not pursuing daunting projects is more burdensome than marching straight into them.

A joyful approach to sports—“Yiz are playing a stormer out there”—and a salute to the importance of understanding history. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-84717-826-8

Page Count: 190

Publisher: O'Brien Press/Dufour Editions

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her...

LIKE VANESSA

In pursuit of her dreams, Vanessa becomes an unlikely contestant in her middle school’s first-ever pageant.

African-American eighth-grader Vanessa Martin is glued to the TV when Vanessa Williams is crowned the first black Miss America in 1983. Inspired, Vanessa imagines her own dreams coming true. Maybe she can rise above her painful family problems and dissatisfaction with her dark skin. Maybe she can escape her gang- and drug-plagued neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. But when the new music teacher, Mrs. Walton, who is white, encourages Vanessa to audition for the school’s first-ever pageant, she declines. She has an extraordinary singing voice but lacks the confidence to compete. When Mrs. Walton, Vanessa’s grandpa Pop Pop, and her cousin TJ join forces to get her to try out, she must face her fears—and the neighborhood mean girl—to have a shot at realizing her dreams. Vanessa’s compelling story unfolds through a combination of first-person narrative, diary entries, and well-crafted poems that perfectly capture the teen voice and perspective. From the first page, readers are drawn into Vanessa’s world, a place of poverty, abandonment, and secrets—and abiding love and care. The soundscape of early rap music helps bring the ’80s to life and amplifies Vanessa’s concerns about racism, friendship, family, and her future. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will cheer Vanessa on and see themselves in her story.

This debut is a treasure: a gift to every middle school girl who ever felt unpretty, unloved, and trapped by her circumstances. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58089-777-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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Despite the differing perspectives, though, it’s never more than a superficial exploration of the differences between...

ATHLETE VS. MATHLETE

Seventh-grade fraternal twins Owen and Russell are as different as night and day, and that spells trouble when both of them make the basketball team.

Owen is the quintessential jock: He plays basketball nearly all the time, and when he isn't playing, he's thinking about it. Russell, more concerned with academics, serves as leader of his school's Masters of the Mind team, a group that competes against other schools to solve tough mental puzzles. He's generally regarded as physically inept. Russell and Owen don't understand each other's worlds, but previously, it hardly seemed to matter. Then the new coach asks Russell to try out for the team because he's tall, and with that height comes a surprisingly satisfying skill in blocking shots. Owen, no longer the sole star athlete in his family, becomes increasingly jealous as his father, who once more or less ignored Russell, begins to focus on both sons. Chapters alternate between the brothers’ first-person accounts, providing readers with a nice look at their diametrically opposed thinking. Russell's chapters are amusing, as he discovers unexpected talents and abilities. Owen comes across as much less attractive; readers may be surprised by the level of his anger and his childish behavior.

Despite the differing perspectives, though, it’s never more than a superficial exploration of the differences between brothers, enlivened by welcome infusions of basketball. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59990-915-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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