Fascinating source material deserves a treatment less reliant on tired tropes

THE RUINED CITY

From the Golden Mask series , Vol. 1

Drawn into a primordial struggle that threatens the balance of the world, Howard embarks on a journey through time and space.

A split narrative, twining from imperial-era Sanxingdui to contemporary Aylford (an author’s note informs readers that Sanxingdui is a real place in China, while fictional Aylford is inspired by American author H.P. Lovecraft’s fictional town Arkham), tells the story of the Golden Mask, an object of immense power. When nefarious forces seek to seize that power, Howard must battle darkness of monstrous proportions. It’s an ambitious story, weaving in ancient civilizations from all over the world. Wilson misses the mark, though, deploying one cliché after another, from the “very important magical object” to the “chosen one.” Howard’s unfathomable importance remains unexplained, and Cate, his friend, exactly embodies the “mystical minority” trope. Cate is one of three characters in Aylford who are specifically and repeatedly identified as Chinese—the rest are presumed white. Small discrepancies riddle the text, and use of Chinese language is inconsistent or simply wrong. Passages of evocative prose appear alongside moments of unbelievably cartoonish description and dialogue (one character uses the phrase, “cool people like me”). With a cast of characters who seem to reappear in various incarnations, the plot feels simultaneously fussy and simplistic—and insufficiently compelling for readers to want to continue on to the next book in the planned series.

Fascinating source material deserves a treatment less reliant on tired tropes . (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4598-1970-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.

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REFUGEE

In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school–aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact.

Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar.

Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense. (maps, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-545-88083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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