Filled with bumbling characters who achingly love each other, this coming-of-age tale rises above a crowded field to take...

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LITTLE RED LIES

Rachel, after donning an inappropriately bright lipstick called “Little Red Lies,” welcomes her beloved elder brother, James, back from World War II.

Unfortunately, lies aren’t confined to the lipstick. James, deeply altered by the war, glosses over his disturbing experiences to his family, although letters he continues to write to Rachel—but has never sent—contain the truth of the brutality. Tragically, once safely home, he develops leukemia, a lethal illness in 1947. Rachel lies to him to convince him to visit a faith healer, whom she then recognizes as a fraud. Then she lies to her parents (and herself) about the intentions of a handsome but predatory teacher who’s playing up to her as well as other girls. After her mom conceives an unplanned baby, it’s concealed from both Rachel and James. When they discover, embarrassingly late, the cause of her weight gain, James feels convinced the baby is intended as a replacement for him. The seeming surfeit of subplots is believably explained and sensitively written, succeeding largely due to Rachel’s spunky though almost pathetically naïve first-person voice, which rings fully true. At one point, the whole town believes James has the clap, largely because Rachel overheard then repeated a conversation she didn’t understand.

Filled with bumbling characters who achingly love each other, this coming-of-age tale rises above a crowded field to take readers on a moving journey of discovery. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-77049-313-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Tundra

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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A painful story smartly told, Benjamin’s first solo novel has appeal well beyond a middle school audience.

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THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH

In middle school, where “Worst Thing” can mean anything from a pimple to public humiliation, Suzy “Zu” Swanson really has a reason to be in crisis: her former best friend has died unexpectedly, and the seventh-grader is literally silenced by grief and confusion.

A chance encounter with a jellyfish display on a school trip gives her focus—for Zu, the venomous Irukandji jellyfish, while rare, provides a possible explanation for the “how” of Franny’s death. And Zu is desperate for answers and relief from her haunting grief and guilt. In seven parts neatly organized around the scientific method as presented by Mrs. Turton, a middle school teacher who really gets the fragility of her students, Zu examines and analyzes past and present. A painful story of friendship made and lost emerges: the inseparable early years, Franny’s pulling away, Zu’s increasing social isolation, and a final attempt by Zu to honor a childhood pact. The author gently paints Zu as a bit of an oddball; not knowing what hair product to use leaves her feeling “like a separate species altogether,” and knowing too many species of jellyfish earns her the nickname Medusa. Surrounded by the cruelty of adolescence, Zu is awkward, smart, methodical, and driven by sadness. She eventually follows her research far beyond the middle school norm, because “ ‘Sometimes things just happen’ is not an explanation. It is not remotely scientific.”

A painful story smartly told, Benjamin’s first solo novel has appeal well beyond a middle school audience. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-38086-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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