SUMMER OF STOLEN SECRETS

A middle schooler discovers that her prickly, estranged grandmother has a soft spot.

Catarina Arden-Blume’s father has not spoken to his mother ever since she objected to his marrying a Christian. He rejects organized religion, though Cat’s mom encourages her daughter to explore her Jewish heritage. And whether Cat feels awkward about it or not, she’s about to be confronted with it, because she’s been invited to her father’s hometown of Baton Rouge this summer, where she’ll meet her grandmother for the first time. Safta is a little scary, and Cat’s one-year-older (but far more worldly) cousin, Lexie, is more interested in sneaking around with her boyfriend than she is in hanging out. But adult discipline wins out, and soon the two cousins are working at Gerta’s, the family department store, a behemoth in size and local significance. When Cat investigates a storeroom Safta keeps locked, she discovers a trove of information that may explain why German-born Safta doesn’t like to talk about the past—and why the store’s employees so love and respect a woman Cat has only known to be intolerant. Narrated as a letter to Safta, this thoughtful story is at times melancholy and at times delightfully deadpan, more focused on the intergenerational relationship than teaching about the Shoah. Despite the tantalizing promise of the title, so few pages are devoted to the uncovered secret that its significance is easy to miss and the story could be read as a more general lesson on respecting elders.

Sweet and memorable. (author's note) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-20364-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people.

GROUND ZERO

Parallel storylines take readers through the lives of two young people on Sept. 11 in 2001 and 2019.

In the contemporary timeline, Reshmina is an Afghan girl living in foothills near the Pakistan border that are a battleground between the Taliban and U.S. armed forces. She is keen to improve her English while her twin brother, Pasoon, is inspired by the Taliban and wants to avenge their older sister, killed by an American bomb on her wedding day. Reshmina helps a wounded American soldier, making her village a Taliban target. In 2001, Brandon Chavez is spending the day with his father, who works at the World Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant. Brandon is heading to the underground mall when a plane piloted by al-Qaida hits the tower, and his father is among those killed. The two storylines develop in parallel through alternating chapters. Gratz’s deeply moving writing paints vivid images of the loss and fear of those who lived through the trauma of 9/11. However, this nuance doesn’t extend to the Afghan characters; Reshmina and Pasoon feel one-dimensional. Descriptions of the Taliban’s Afghan victims and Reshmina's gentle father notwithstanding, references to all young men eventually joining the Taliban and Pasoon's zeal for their cause counteract this messaging. Explanations for the U.S. military invasion of Afghanistan in the author’s note and in characters’ conversations too simplistically present the U.S. presence.

Falters in its oversimplified portrayal of a complicated region and people. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-24575-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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