A mysterious game that is unfortunately not that much fun to play.

THE MISSING SKULL

From the Seven Prequels series

Twelve-year-old Steve is thrilled when his enigmatic grandfather announces it is finally his turn to take a trip, but camping on a remote lake in northern Ontario seems pretty lame compared to his twin brother’s epic adventure in Central America.

The run-down cabin and meager amenities do little to improve Steve’s outlook. But when his grandfather reveals the real reason for their trip—solving the mystery of a famous artist’s missing skull—things definitely start looking up. Drawing upon the knowledge he has gleaned from reading mystery novels, Steve tries to piece together the clues. But the game takes a dark turn when his grandfather is kidnapped and strangers threaten him at gunpoint. Steve is brave, even risking his life to save his grandfather, but the mystery proves too difficult to solve. In fact, the meandering plot and random events may stump even the most resourceful sleuth. The reveal at the end exposes the reason: the game was constantly in flux. Featuring an all-white cast judging by the absence of markers to the contrary, this is one of a series of seven novels all published simultaneously and written by different authors; readers will hope the others are a bit more definitive.

A mysterious game that is unfortunately not that much fun to play. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4598-1158-4

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch.

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THE CROSSOVER

Basketball-playing twins find challenges to their relationship on and off the court as they cope with changes in their lives.

Josh Bell and his twin, Jordan, aka JB, are stars of their school basketball team. They are also successful students, since their educator mother will stand for nothing else. As the two middle schoolers move to a successful season, readers can see their differences despite the sibling connection. After all, Josh has dreadlocks and is quiet on court, and JB is bald and a trash talker. Their love of the sport comes from their father, who had also excelled in the game, though his championship was achieved overseas. Now, however, he does not have a job and seems to have health problems the parents do not fully divulge to the boys. The twins experience their first major rift when JB is attracted to a new girl in their school, and Josh finds himself without his brother. This novel in verse is rich in character and relationships. Most interesting is the family dynamic that informs so much of the narrative, which always reveals, never tells. While Josh relates the story, readers get a full picture of major and minor players. The basketball action provides energy and rhythm for a moving story.

Poet Alexander deftly reveals the power of the format to pack an emotional punch. (Verse fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-544-10771-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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