Successfully mixes heavy-handed lessons on consumer awareness with tween-approved toilet jokes and just a smidge of romance.



In this middle-grade fantasy novel, an 11-year-old boy descends into a consumerist hell to save his parents, himself and the world.

On vacation with his museum-obsessed dad and his flea market–crazed mother, all Tito really wants to do is drive straight to Nature World. (He craves nature, but adults are standing in his way; the morals aren’t exactly subtle.) During an unplanned stop by Sanguine Lake, the family finds a slime-filled lake, a ghost town and TitanMart, the retail leviathan that’s pushing an unlikely toy craze: Gourdon, a stumpy, green doll made out of a gourd. Everyone wants one, including Tito’s dad, who vanishes into the creepy, seemingly infinite depths of TitanMart, with Tito’s mom soon to follow. As the adults flit around him like weak-willed patsies, Tito sets off to save them, accompanied by Eugene, a benevolent genie he has conjured out of hotel toiletries, and guided by coded messages from a mysterious redheaded girl. TitanMart has even more levels than Dante’s Inferno—too many, perhaps, making this fast-paced book feel repetitive at times—all of them as baldly allegorical as the Italian original. Aisle one is filled with fat, lazy children being force-fed grease and sugar in front of televisions. Aisle two gleams with the promise of a perfect home—and with menacing cleaning supplies. Hutton gives his tween readers a lot of credit: He knows they’ll see the danger in Preferred Customer Cards even before they turn into snakes and they’ll recognize the common (here, sinister) sales gimmickry that Tito confronts as he moves further into the belly of the retail beast. The complicated plot involves government–corporation collusion, which requires more than your average level of news awareness. The humor, however, aims right for tweens’ sweet spot: goo, poo, vomit, snot, the full panoply of disgusting, embarrassing excretions. Together it makes a smart, fun read.

Successfully mixes heavy-handed lessons on consumer awareness with tween-approved toilet jokes and just a smidge of romance.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-936669-03-5

Page Count: 244

Publisher: blue manatee press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2012

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.



In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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