A solid, timely effort.

READ REVIEW

A SONG FOR BIJOU

Surviving middle school and puberty is an age-old challenge that video cameras and YouTube have only complicated, as vividly demonstrated in this enjoyable, seriocomic tale of new love, culture clash, adolescent social stratification and friendship.

His obsession with girls has already driven a wedge between seventh-grader Alex Schrader and nerdy pals Nomura and Ira (beware geeks with video cameras) at their Brooklyn, boys-only parochial school. Still, when Alex is smitten with a beautiful Haitian student at their sister school, his loyal, inexperienced posse offers aid and (dubious) advice. Bijou Doucet, who lived through Haiti’s horrific earthquake three years earlier, has more on her plate: life with her childless uncle and aunt in a new country whose adolescent culture Bijou’s expected to ignore. No academic superstar (he didn’t know Haiti was in the West Indies) and burdened with a cello-playing older sister, easygoing Alex cheerfully admits to being talent-free. But love leads him to unexpected places: to Flatbush and Haitian rara music, to discover a talent for drumming, to examine unquestioned values and priorities. Meanwhile, classmates threatened by the disruption of the social pecking order take action. Though Alex’s voice is stronger, co-narrator Bijou is sensitively drawn. Farrar handles race and the complexities of interracial relationships by implication, through Alex’s discovery of the vibrant, new (to him) world just blocks away.

A solid, timely effort. (author’s note) (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8027-3394-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read.

MOMENTOUS EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

From the Life of a Cactus series

In the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), Aven Green confronts her biggest challenge yet: surviving high school without arms.

Fourteen-year-old Aven has just settled into life at Stagecoach Pass with her adoptive parents when everything changes again. She’s entering high school, which means that 2,300 new kids will stare at her missing arms—and her feet, which do almost everything hands can (except, alas, air quotes). Aven resolves to be “blasé” and field her classmates’ pranks with aplomb, but a humiliating betrayal shakes her self-confidence. Even her friendships feel unsteady. Her friend Connor’s moved away and made a new friend who, like him, has Tourette’s syndrome: a girl. And is Lando, her friend Zion’s popular older brother, being sweet to Aven out of pity—or something more? Bowling keenly depicts the universal awkwardness of adolescence and the particular self-consciousness of navigating a disability. Aven’s “armless-girl problems” realistically grow thornier in this outing, touching on such tough topics as death and aging, but warm, quirky secondary characters lend support. A few preachy epiphanies notwithstanding, Aven’s honest, witty voice shines—whether out-of-reach vending-machine snacks are “taunting” her or she’s nursing heartaches. A subplot exploring Aven’s curiosity about her biological father resolves with a touching twist. Most characters, including Aven, appear white; Zion and Lando are black.

Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3329-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise.

WHERE SHE FELL

A teenager battles social anxiety disorder and giant bugs in a subterranean world.

When two bad friends to whom she’s been clinging trick her into venturing into the ominously named Drowners Swamp, Eliza falls into a sinkhole that leads into a seemingly endless cave system. Being an avid fan of caves and geology, Eliza is as enthralled as she is terrified—a mix of emotions that remains unaltered as she encounters a small community of likewise trapped people surviving on a diet of outsized spiders and cave insects. Weeks later she is captured (briefly, thanks to a conveniently timed spider attack) by bioluminescent humanoids. All the while, despite having been in therapy for years, she continually denigrates herself for panic attacks and freezing up around others. Her emotional reactions take up so much of the narrative, in fact, that for all its lurid, occasionally gruesome turns, it’s hard to tell whether character or action drives the story more. In the event, Eliza is surprised to find reserves of inner strength—and a chance at personal transformation—through her ordeal. The first-person narration is punctuated with excerpts and sketches from Eliza’s journal. Except for one character with brown skin, the nonglowing cast defaults to white. Warring themes and elements give this outing a distinct feel of multiple stories yoked together by violence.

Melodramatic but definitively all over the place contentwise. (Science fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-338-23007-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Point/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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