Provocative themes help to mitigate textual infelicities.

READ REVIEW

WHASIAN

Ava Ling Magee, a college freshman at Davison University, struggles with her mixed-race heritage and a ruthless and controlling parent in Stoffers’ debut for teens.

When Ava arrives at the dorms, she’s greeted with a typical question: “Who’s Chinese? Your mom or dad?” Her response? “Neither.” It’s a bald-faced lie, as Ava is Chinese on her mother’s side and Caucasian on her dad’s. For most of her life, Ava has felt split between two worlds, unable to feel either Chinese enough or white enough. Worse, Mei physically and verbally abuses Ava (using both English and Mandarin obscenities freely), while her dad buries himself in work. Daring to major in English, not cellular biology, Ava finds a mentor in Professor Chen, whose hair features multicolored streaks and who encourages Ava to see herself in valuable ways. Another discovery, her Chinese grandmother’s diary, written during China’s Cultural Revolution, may hold treasured insights that could heal Ava’s present. While the author shines in some moments, notably with Professor Chen and Lao lao’s diary, her prose would benefit from hearty and tough-love doses of pruning. The inclusion of Ava’s parents’ back story and narrative shifts to their perspectives detract from Ava, as she’s whole enough to carry the book. Complex racial-identity themes run deep; though overdone at times, they nonetheless expose many of the challenges of being biracial. As an alternative means of exploring these themes, readers may prefer The Latte Rebellion, by Sarah Jamila Stevenson (2011), written for a slightly younger audience.

Provocative themes help to mitigate textual infelicities. (Fiction. 16 & up)

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2015

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Harken Media

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Earnest and bighearted but too pat overall.

Shaky Man

Set in Texas in the 1960s, this YA novel teaches tolerance through the experiences of its young protagonist and narrator, “Tops” Parsley.

In his short debut novel, writer Parker gives us Tops; his friends Mickey Jackson, Joe Ellis, and Rex Johnson; and Shaky Man, named for his inherited palsy. The story—but for the court scenes in Waco—takes place in the idyllic town of Tonkaway on Tonkaway Creek. The boys are crazy for baseball and other sports; Sunday means church, etc.—but there is a skunk in this woodpile. Two, in fact. One is the intolerance shown to Shaky Man, whom the kids have made into a boogeyman who lives alone and reputedly starves his dogs and eats children (!). Shaky Man is in fact poor material for an ogre or even a curmudgeon. He is a man with a tragic past who welcomes kids rather than eating them. The other, more serious, issue is Mickey’s African-American skin. Again, most of the characters haven’t a prejudiced bone in their bodies, but there are those—“knuckleheads” Tops’ dad calls them—who are not so enlightened. This comes to a head when Mickey’s dad, a janitor at Baylor, discovers the body of a murdered professor and of course becomes the prime suspect. Things look really grim until Shaky Man, who is really Dr. Walter Boone, a retired doctor with a forensic specialty, testifies for the defense. A hung jury saves Leonard Jackson until the real culprit is found and convicted. Some young readers may be moved by the book, the period touches (e.g., Star Trek and Wild Kingdom on the TV) are fun (although Mr. Spock is mistakenly given a doctor’s title), and Tops is well-drawn. But it’s borderline incredible that the kids could make a boogeyman out of Dr. Boone (see above), and as to the trial of Mickey’s father, in the Texas of 60 years ago, sadly, he would more likely have been railroaded than exonerated.

Earnest and bighearted but too pat overall.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61254-862-3

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Brown Books Kids

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2017

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AKIKO ON THE PLANET SMOO

Opening episodes of a comic-book series created by an American teacher in Japan take a leap into chapter-book format, with only partial success. Resembling—in occasional illustrations—a button-eyed, juvenile Olive Oyl, Akiko, 10, is persuaded by a pair of aliens named Bip and Bop to climb out her high-rise bedroom’s window for a trip to M&M-shaped Planet Smoo, where Prince Fropstoppit has been kidnapped by widely feared villainness Alia Rellaport. Along with an assortment of contentious sidekicks, including brainy Mr. Beeba, Akiko battles Sky Pirates and video-game-style monsters in prolonged scenes of cartoony violence, displaying resilience, courage, and leadership ability, but not getting very far in her rescue attempt; in fact, the story cuts off so abruptly, with so little of the quest completed, and at a lull in the action to boot, that readers expecting a self-contained (forget complete) story are likely to feel cheated. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-32724-2

Page Count: 162

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1999

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